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I would like to know, under what license is the content of GitHub issues that were created by others.

To clarify my needs:

  • By "issues created by others", I mean issues created by GitHub users both in their own repositories and in the repositories of others.
  • By "content", I mean all content that GitHub allows one to put into an issue – source code, images, poems, personal thoughts, etc.

What I have discovered so far

  1. GitHub's Terms of Service explicitly mention issues only in one place – in the point D.5 (they are mentioned as a part of so-called "User-Generated Content"), but there is only one indication of things interesting for me: that other GitHub users may view issues.

  2. I have tried to find indications of license (or just rights and obligations) for "User-Generated Content" in the Terms, but I could not find anything more specific than in the point D.5, according to my needs.

  3. In the point D.6, the Terms state:

    Whenever you make a contribution to a repository containing notice of a license, you license your contribution under the same terms, and you agree that you have the right to license your contribution under those terms.

    I suspect that the mentioned "contribution" might include issues, but I am not sure whether it is so.

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    What concrete thing are you asking about? For example, suppose you attach a photograph (that you created yourself) into a GitHub issue of someone else's repository, without stating a license for use of your photograph; are you asking under what license that photograph is published? – Brandin Nov 5 '19 at 7:28
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    @Brandin Yes, that is an example of what I am asking. Maybe I should have used the word "license". – Silv Nov 5 '19 at 22:22
  • Yes I mean if you ask a specifc case like this it might be easier to answer this. Right now "what rights and obligations do I have" is kind of open ended. – Brandin Nov 5 '19 at 22:26
  • @Brandin I have changed the title, and slightly the body. – Silv Nov 5 '19 at 22:35
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    @MadHatter Oh, right, I did not noticed that I am not using it anymore, now I see. Anyway, thanks for encouraging me to be more sure of myself. I really find the post clearer now. Either way, I think the key word is "license". – Silv Nov 6 '19 at 22:01
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IANAL, but in my understanding GitHub issues can be considered as documentation associated with source code. The only difference between opening an issue and sending a PR or committing changes directly is purely technical. The effect is the same: you add content to the repository.

If you released your repository under, say, the MIT license, then the license also applies to the documentation. You can also explicitly mention a license for documentation.

GitHub functions in a way that all contributions use the same license initially used - except otherwise stated. This rule is often referred as "inbound=outbound" and it is explicitly stated on the site. However, I'm not entirely sure it has a real legal ground without a proper Contributor Licensing Agreement. Well, most projects do not ask for a CLA or even a DCO - so I am guessing it is fine. There is a controversy about the real legal necessity of using a CLA in general, so I imagine that the answer to this question is also controversial.

All things considered, we can reasonably expect issues to be bound to the documentation license chosen by the repository.

EDIT: to respond to comments I haven't read anything from GitHub that confirm the previous statement, it was just an educated guess. Open-source teams often regard issues as documentation. However, what happens when you're the sole owner of the project (no external commits or PR) and you change the license? What about the issues posted by others? Issues could simply be "all rights reserved". Frankly I am not sure about it and the suggestion below is even more appropriate.

In doubt, reaching out to GitHub directly is probably best. You mentioned poems and other contents potentially unrelated to the software (is it even a software you're storing on GitHub?). Honestly, it's a great question.

| improve this answer | |
  • "GitHub issues can be considered as documentation associated with source code" - Maybe this is true but is there something in GitHub's terms that makes you think this? If so please cite a source to that. To me it's not obvious that something you post on an "issue" board of a project is automatically the same license as the project owner of that happened to choose. Of course if I post something on GitHub then of course I am accepting GitHub's TOSes, but beyond that I don't see how me posting something automatically agrees to a separate license with the project owner that posted on GitHub. – Brandin Apr 6 at 12:23
  • The other possible problem with this interpretation is what happens if the owner changes the license? If you are the sole owner of a project, you can normally change the license. Does that change the license of all the issues too? – Brandin Apr 6 at 12:24
  • Answer edited to mention your remarks. – N. Gimenez Apr 6 at 13:45
  • It is true that without clear explicit terms neither in the repository License itself, nor in GitHub terms, default could be that issues are simply "all rights reserved". – N. Gimenez Apr 6 at 13:48

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