What is the license of code found in ObservableHQ, for example this one?

I really tried reading The Observable Terms of Service but I couldn't get a conclusive answer by myself.

The following excerpt seemed the most relevant:

5. License Grant to Other Users

Any User-Generated Content you post publicly may be viewed by others. By publishing your notebooks, you agree to allow others to view and “fork” your notebooks (this means that others may make their own copies of Content from your notebooks in notebooks they control).

When you publish a notebook, you grant each User of Observable a nonexclusive, worldwide license to use, display, and perform Your Content through the Observable Service and to reproduce Your Content solely on Observable as permitted through Observable’s functionality (for example, through forking). If you are uploading Content you did not create or own, you are responsible for ensuring that the Content you upload is licensed under terms that grant these permissions to other Observable Users.

I've read this many times but I'm still not sure. This seems to mean that I can use other people's code in my own Observable Notebooks, but doesn't say anything explicitly about taking the code to do something else. Do I have to explicitly ask the person (i.e. the code is 'unlicensed' by default)?

1 Answer 1


These terms looks very much like GitHub's terms of service; compare with their section d, subsection 5:

Any User-Generated Content you post publicly, including issues, comments, and contributions to other Users' repositories, may be viewed by others. By setting your repositories to be viewed publicly, you agree to allow others to view and "fork" your repositories (this means that others may make their own copies of Content from your repositories in repositories they control).

Therefore, it's worth reading What can I assume if a publicly published project has no license?, because the default position on ObservableHQ is likely to be the same as that on GitHub - that is, that you have no rights to do anything with that code except view it, and create an onsite fork. Those terms are designed to make it easy for the site to operate, enabling their fork-but-stay-on-platform model, but they do nothing for users.

  • Mike Bostock, co-founder of observable, confirms this interpretation here.
    – Mehdi
    May 8, 2020 at 9:13
  • @Mehdi thank you very much for that! It's always nice to get confirmation, although it's a shame the co-founder couldn't have picked licence terms that were nicer to the users rather than the company.
    – MadHatter
    May 8, 2020 at 11:12
  • @MadHatter What would those terms look like? Do you consider Github's terms unfriendly as well? If you follow the thread linked by Mehdi you'll find Codepen mentioned who enforce MIT for all public pens, and as a result are prone to causing relicensing conflicts. May 20, 2020 at 14:43

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