Make your choice

GitHub clears up licensing issues with simplifying tools

Chris Mayer

Realising their own hypocrisy, the biggest open source coding hub iron out the creases in their licensing policy with handy tools.


Despite being the biggest open source community out there, GitHub has faced flak in the past for its slightly hazy policy on open source licenses.

As Open Source Initiative President, Simon Phipps points out “a significant number of GitHub projects come with no rights whatsoever for you to use their code.” Many newcomers naturally assume that because the repository is in the public domain, then they must be able to fork to their heart’s content. Yet, unless there is an open source license attached, you have no rights to do so, under GitHub’s Terms of Service.

To make amends for this oversight, GitHub has launched to clear up the confusion and help newcomers make an informed decision on their open source license – whether it is permissive, copyleft or otherwise

The homepage simplifies the implications of selecting one of the most popular open source licenses – MIT, GPL or Apache – and by delving deeper, you can explore further choices. There’s a summary for each OSS license, complete with full legalese, which explains what is permitted and what isn’t, as well as notes on how to apply that license to any given project.

GitHub have finally acknowledged the No License problem too in the documentation. Even better news is that the site itself can be forked, so you are encouraged to offer your improvements.

To further assist users, GitHub has introduced additional options when creating a new repository. It is now possible to associate an open source license from the start through a helpful dropdown menu, which will in turn automatically create a readme file in the root directory of that repository.

GitHub should be commended for taking the first step towards addressing their unclear licensing policy, and with the community striving to improve it, Choose A License should become an invaluable asset to the service.

Although not officially associated with GitHub, another project AddALicense (created by GitHub’s Garen J Torkian) helps you apply licenses to public repositories without one. This is useful for those unsure how to apply licenses and for those needing to polish their existing collection.

Also announced this week is a new native new mobile view for the repository service, so users can check Issues and Pull Requests whilst on the go. Currently, the native app is purely for browsing though, and not for building from the ground. Maybe in a few years eh?

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