I found a github repo with a package.json with a line saying:

"license": "BSD-2-Clause"

However, this repo:

  • does not have a LICENSE file at all
  • no single file inside the repo has a header specifying its licensing
  • overall no mention of licensing anywhere else.

Is this repo considered as a BSD-2-licensed repo? Can I use/fork it under the BSD-2-Clause?

The repo is https://github.com/maxogden/menubar.

  • 2
    The central question in my mind is: would you prevail against a lawsuit from the author if they claimed the work was not covered under the 2-clause BSD license and sued you for copyright infringement? (I'm commenting because I'm not really prepared to thoroughly answer that central question.)
    – apsillers
    Mar 24, 2019 at 19:08
  • no single file inside the repo has a header specifying its licensing, you just pointed out that a file package.json has the field license with the value BSD-2-Clause. I would consider this repo as BSD-2-Clause licensed yes. It's important to note that it is the BSD-2-Clause and not for example the BSD License 2.0, naming of the licenses are important. All in all licensing isn't rocket science, in this example it states it pretty clearly. Jan 16, 2020 at 12:37

1 Answer 1


The LICENCE file is a convention, but not an obligation, except for some licences which require you to add the licence to the distribution of the project, e.g., the GPL.

Then some projects include a "this is licenced under X, the licence can be found in the LICENCE" header in each file, others imply that it is clear that all files are licenced under the provided licence.

With the BSDL, some author may have forked the BSDL project, but does not intent to licence it under BSDL again. As long as he did not add anything, you're covered by the BSDL. When he added something, his changes might be proprietary.

What does the BSDL require for licencing?

BSD 2-Clause License

Copyright (c) [year], [fullname] All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

  1. Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

  2. Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution. [...]

So it requires you to retain a copyright notice and disclaimer, but not the BSDL itself.

The package.json licence field is intended to display the licence on sites hosting the package, so you can assume that the author wants mark the package to be licenced under BSDL, when he added the line himself.

Finally there is the option to ask him to clarify the licencing, because others may have the same doubts as you.

  • 1
    But “this list of conditions and the following disclaimer” is the BSD license! Without adding the full BSD license text, no one except the original copyright holder can distribute it legally.
    – amon
    Mar 25, 2019 at 15:41
  • It is, but it does not disallow you to add more strict rules. For example you can completely replace the BSDL by the GPL, because it enforces the two rules of the BSDL as well.
    – allo
    Mar 25, 2019 at 22:57

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