I have been asked to provide the license details of all the software libraries used in a software. It should have been an easy task since the customer provided the full sources for them.

Unfortunately, among others I've noticed that Highcharts sources (version 2.1.4) do not contain any license.

All I can find is:

 * @license Highcharts JS v2.1.4 (2011-03-02)
 * (c) 2009-2010 Torstein Hønsi
 * License: www.highcharts.com/license

Now, I will contact the company to know what the license was back then.

But that made me wonder: can such unstated, untraceable and mutable contract be enforced in a court?

I mean, whatever license Highcharts had back then, the resource pointed by the url may have been changed by the company, hacked by an attacker and so on...

There is no way (that I can think of) to prove that the license was a particular one, just like there is no way to prove that the a page referenced by a particular URL had the same content it currently have.

Obviously, Highcharts still reserves the copyright so that probably it does not change much from a legal perspective, but this might impact other open source project depending on Highcharts (as the software in question) that could not prove all their dependencies are actually good for a specific application.

  • 1
    Note that the company doesn't have to "enforce the license"; they just have to enforce their copyright. By default the copyright holder has the exclusive right to copy, and everyone else is forbidden to do so without permission (other than fair use and similar provisions). So in the event of a dispute, as I understand it, the burden of proof would be on the copier to show that they had been granted a license allowing them to do what they did. Jan 23 '17 at 16:45
  • Yes, obviously. Still, usually the license protects both the copyright owner and the copier. Such a link protects the copyright owner only. Jan 23 '17 at 17:26

If the terms of the license ended up being disputed in court, it would become an evidentiary matter.

A licensee could have saved a copy of the license that they are relying on, they could track down other licensees to testify about what the license said, they could use archive.org's historical record of the license (here it is, as of March, 2010), they could simply assert what they remember they remember the license permitting.

Highcharts on the other side could refer to their internal website backups, design documents, emails, and other internal communication or documents that might have evidence about what the license terms were.

I think you're correct that uncertainty about the license could discourage re-use of Highcharts.

  • Well, actually I think that most of my enterprise customers cannot accept this sort of "uncertainty"... I thought I was missing something obvious from a legal point of view. Jan 23 '17 at 16:05

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