I have been hired by a Canadian governmental agency to release a version of my application on their behalf. They have informed me that I must add the French language to my application to comply with local law according to the to French Language Services Act which:

...guarantees the right to services in French from the provincial government in government offices in designated areas of the province.

I was in the process of updating my applications to French when I ran into an interesting dilemma: Should the attribution screen, which includes copyright and 3rd party software licenses, also be translated?

Previously, I had always worked with the understanding that any alterations (including translations) violate the licenses unless an official translated license is obtained from the license authors; If no official translation exists, then these licenses must be displayed as-is in English. This is further supported by my research which states

Most licenses, open source or commercial, require that a copy of the copyright, patent, trademark, and attribution notices from the source software be distributed verbatim with the product using that software.

However, I don't have any official documentation that backs this understanding and this goes against what has been requested of me by this agency. They would like this page to also be translated.

This leads me to ask the additional following questions:

  • If it should not be translated, is there a legal reference I can provide to the agency to support this conclusion?
  • If it is allowed to be translated, is hiring a translator sufficient?

The licenses that are used in my application include:

  • Apache 2.0
  • MPLv2
  • BSD License
  • MIT license

2 Answers 2


It's not your license. It's the MIT's license, for example.

What all these licenses have in common is that they allow the user to use the software in the way that copyright law allows, and then give the user certain further rights. So all the users of the software can use it just fine without being able to read the license terms, as long as they don't do anything outside what copyright law allows.

If they want to do things that exceed what copyright law does, they must adhere to the license. That requires being confident that you understand the license text - if you don't understand it, it would be stupid to do things that might be copyright infringement. But all that is of no concern to users, only to software developers.

As an example, German courts have decided that GPL being in English is Ok in Germany, because German software developers can be expected to speak English.

All in all, I would say that a translation of these licenses isn't necessary because users don't need it, and the reason why you have to display the license is usually because the license itself requires you to display the unmodified license.

  • Thank you for your response. We were able to keep the licenses in their original language due to the fact that the license does not provide any additional or necessary service to the users of the app. It therefore falls outside of the translations required for the French Language Services Act.
    – Krejko
    Nov 2, 2015 at 13:17

Translating a license can change its terms, I would suggest looking on the appropriate site for the French versions.

I would contact the owners as some sites won't allow you to do this.

  • Thank you for your quick response. I have at each of sites for translations but was unable to locate any alternate languages. The changing of the terms is exactly my fear with providing my own translations (any translations not from the original author).
    – Krejko
    Oct 20, 2015 at 16:53
  • Presumably translations would need to be authorized by the copyright holder of the licensed software components, not the author.
    – bdsl
    Nov 19, 2015 at 1:03
  • A license is usually a complex document that is itself under copyright protection. So you'd need permission of the copyright holder of the license to translate it. For example, the various GPL license versions are quite strict about creating any derivative works of the license itself, including translations. Because they obviously don't want licenses that are similar to but not quite the same as the GPL license to float about.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 13, 2015 at 16:53

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