1

Imagine this situation, you create a new project which is not intended to be Open-Source, but you use a permissive framework which allows not opening the source code of your own project which depends on said framework.

Some time go by and you develop your application with version control, but then in your project structure you notice a LICENSE file with a copyright statement:

- app +
      |
      + ...
- LICENSE.txt

Turns out this LICENSE file is a leftover file from the framework you used, but it's in the root directory of your project. The license itself is whatever license the framework is, but the copyright statement is not yours or your organizations, but the framework developers.

My question here is:

Does this license file now somehow apply to the project?

Is my project, or at least all the versions with this file in them (in the version control history), magically under this license?

Similarily, let's say you notice a project file (let's take package.json) that also has a leftover license field from somewhere that you forgot to remove:

  "license": "ISC",

(I've seen this happen in JS projects where npm init was run through quickly, the default license field is ISC)

What about this? Does this somehow apply to the project, even if the author intended for it to be proprietary?

2

If the license file, or an associated copyright notice, clearly indicates that the license applies to the framework or package, rather then to the application developed using that tool, then it can't reasonably be construed to apply to the application.

It would be advisable to either remove any license files for tools used to develop the application, or if they must be there to show the license for the tool, then edit them to make sure that each indicates exactly what software the license applies to, and perhaps includes something like "This license does not apply to MyGreatApp, a separate application developed using this tool."

I would also suggest including a license file with the app, even if all it says is: "All rights reserved. MyGreatApp is licensed only by specific agreement with the developer." or something of the sort.

  • And what if, for example, said license file does not clearly specify that it only applies to the framework? For example if it only said copyright (c) yyyy-yyyy, author all rights reserved (and then the license itself). – ZN13 Mar 25 at 16:47
  • 1
    @ZN13 In such a case, the fact that your app displays a copyright notice "Copyright © ZZZZ by AppAuthor" will make it clear that the license file is for a different copyright, because the authro's name is different. Not perfect, but it should be good enough if someone tries to claim that the app is under the framework's license. Your app does display a notice, right? (By the way, don't use (c), it doesn't have the legal effect of ©, and these days there should not be a problem inserting the correct character.) – David Siegel Mar 25 at 16:52
  • To be completely fair this is mostly theoretical, I personally do not distribute any software with such a problem, and if I were I would certainly have a copyright notice and my files in order. I just found something similar in a private repository for an undistributed application (webapp) owned by an organization. Someone else with access now claimed the entire app was under that same license. Thanks for the (c)/© heads up though! – ZN13 Mar 25 at 19:38

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