I preserve old software by asking copyright owners (often one author) to release the source code under an Open Source License, GPL or MIT. In many cases the source is gone, but the binaries still exist. Often they were released under some home made license 20 years ago. If I'm correct the binaries could be released under MIT, which would give them a world wide recognized license, keeping the copyright owner, but also make it possible to do derived works for the user in clear legal way? (I know that much of this would fall under "abandonware" but that is not a legal term). So the question is - is MIT a correct choice for binaries where the source code is lost?

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    Would this re-release be done by contacting the copyright owner of the old work? Usually "abandonware" implies using a work without permission (or outside of the license terms), and assuming that the rights holder will not pursue the violation.
    – Brandin
    Apr 13, 2018 at 10:45
  • No, this release would only happen if the original copyright owner said yes to it.
    – Beamie
    Apr 14, 2018 at 11:48
  • If the original owner is OK, they should formally state they (re)license under MIT (or whatever license you select).
    – vonbrand
    May 3, 2018 at 18:08

1 Answer 1


There's no reason you couldn't do this and I think it may be your best option, though I'm not aware of any well-known uses of MIT/Expat in this way. I wonder if a non-code license like CC-BY would work better, or CC0 if you don't need attribution.

Generally 'freeware' developers make their own licenses and there is little standardization. The closest example I can think of would be Binpress, which is a somewhat common license generator that can make both free and nonfree licenses, and it's been used to distribute binary files before.

You may also be interested in the Floodgap Free Software License, which was designed for both binary and source distributions and allows modification.

  • Yes, I think MIT is the closest choice I got. I want it to be clear that the software can be dissassembled and build derivate works on, distrubute, or do as you otherwise wish, but still attribute the copyright owners.
    – Beamie
    Apr 12, 2018 at 18:11
  • Sure. Note that if the program is any more complex than a 'hello world', it would be a real detraction for developers to not have the source code. Many developers wouldn't want to edit something at all that could contain malware or other antifeatures. I guess it's technically a step up from a totally proprietary license, and it would help with projects like archive.org and computing history. But I can't really see something like this becoming maintained and being used practically.
    – habs
    Apr 12, 2018 at 18:15
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    It's mostly those last use cases (sofware preservation and legaly modifiable) I want to address, without having to hope that it is so called abandoware (which is not a legal term) or not.
    – Beamie
    Apr 12, 2018 at 18:20

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