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For my case, I have open source projects in Node JS that use the MIT license for which I have only added "MIT" to the license field in the package.json config file. There are no contents of the license and no link to any license file so could be considered ambiguous. Would this without a LICENSE file be considered enough for distribution?

This could be applied to any other programming language and license, and would probably be considered more ambiguous if the license is less well known. If the license is very rare then even if the license contents can be searched online, if there are very few copies, how can someone be certain that the contents have not changed.

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    Why do this? If you're trying to entrap people, don't do that. It's not like it's hard to put the actual license file in and a copyright notice. – Philip Kendall Aug 15 '18 at 5:54
  • @PhilipKendall Yes, this seems to be a duplicate. The other question has not been answered yet though, so an answer here or there would be appreciated. – Damien Golding Aug 15 '18 at 6:54
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    I hypothesise you've spent more time writing this question than you would have done copying the MIT license into every project you've ever written xkcd.com/1205 – Philip Kendall Aug 15 '18 at 8:00
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    @DamienGolding The MIT license is short and it includes the statement "The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software." so to comply with your own license i.e. to lead by example, it would only make sense to actually include it in your software. – Brandin Aug 16 '18 at 7:01
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For people and organizations that are serious about copyright, just a statement in a package.json file is not enough.

Copyright licenses are legal documents and in legal documents the smallest details matter. For that reason, people that are interested in using your project want to know the exact terms under which the work is licensed, which means that the exact text of the license should be part of the project or linked from within the project.

The "licence: MIT" line in the package.json file is at most a tool in quickly determining if the project has licensing terms that make it worth considering.

  • "or linked from within the project" - Correct me if I am wrong, but you mean containing an external link to the MIT text would be allowed. Is this really allowed? Are there any examples of this in popular software projects? – Damien Golding Aug 16 '18 at 5:05
  • @DamienGolding Please read what the MIT license actually says: "The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in ...". I do not think including a statement that says "license: MIT" is equivalent to including the permission notice in the software. I don't think a link is either, but it is one step closer. Just include the license text; it is short. – Brandin Aug 16 '18 at 7:03
  • @Brandin That is my interpretation too. That is why I asked the question in response to the answer. The license field in package.json does have a standard which can be validated so if actually validated would probably be similar to linking. I myself have no problem with including the text. The only burdens are creating a habit of doing so and the slight extra storage. The real problem is that so many open source packages may not be doing so, so I believe it is important to draw the line at what should be the minimum done and then can only use packages that meet those conditions. – Damien Golding Aug 16 '18 at 7:11
  • @DamienGolding If you use a hyperlink to the MIT license, and someone clicks that link using ordinary software and can read the permission notice and license, that might be interpreted to mean that you have included the notice in the software (from their perspective they did not notice or care that the license is stored elsewhere). If however you just include a string "license: MIT" I don't see at all how that could be interpreted to mean that you have included the permission in the software. To be safe, include the complete notice. Even with the hyperlink, what if the site goes down? – Brandin Aug 16 '18 at 7:16
  • @Brandin Yes, maybe technically even if validation was possible it would not be definable as "in", and I would think a hyperlink would be the same as rather than going down, someone changing the license at a later date is possible. Including the license in the project is definitely the best method, and is what I'll be using as minimum condition for using packages. The current answer suggests linking which is not something I agree is correct. – Damien Golding Aug 16 '18 at 7:22

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