In a certain open source project I'm planning to use, which is a developmental tool, there is no license included in the project, but the readme contains the following lines:

Terms and Conditions

This utility is free for any use, commercial or otherwise.

I'm not going to be copying any code from here into my project, since it is just something that assists you in version control. How do I interpret this, and is this safe to work with? I've already asked the author to add a real license, but I've received no reply for two months now, and the last commit was more than 5 years back.

  • That is a real license. If you submit a request, you need to say what you want to do and whether or not that is allowed. You've already said you are not planning to copy parts of the code into your own products, so I'm not sure what kind of use you are envisioning that may not be allowed. – Brandin Oct 9 at 11:17
up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is a valid license, but being so short and nonstandard it is not entirely clear.

  • You can use this tool in any project, for any purpose.
  • May you distribute this tool? This is probably intended by the author.
  • May you modify the tool? This is where it gets tricky. It can be argued either way. It is therefore safer to assume that you may not publish modified versions.

Without the right to make and publish modified versions, this falls short of a free or open source license, and would be incompatible with other licenses. This incompatibility does not prevent you from using this software in your projects. While you may use the tool as part of your development process, you may not copy code from the tool. Note also that for (L/A)GPL projects, the Corresponding Source can extend to build utilities. A GPL project should not depend on this tool, though you may still use it as part of your personal workflow.

IANAL/IANYL, but the licence permits "any use". This will include modification and distribution of modified versions, because those are both uses normally constrained by copyright, and thus included in a copyright licence's definition of "any". I see no reason why the work or derivatives thereof should not be used in GPL code.

Consider the Fair License, which permits "Usage of the works". It is OSI-approved, so the OSI feels it grants the necessary freedoms for, eg, GPL compatibility. "Any use" seems to me to be at least as wide a grant of permission as "usage", on the bare face of it.

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