If I were to take license texts of publicy available licenses, such as the WTFPL, to add some paragraphs and create my own license, which I then ship with content created by me, would that be legal? What about AGB's for example?

I'm sure companies put a lot of work/money in form of lawyers into writing the terms, and often it can't be prevented to make them open source.

Three options seem to be plausible to me: (a) license not yet specified and anything possible (b) public domain (c) same license as the license if a license.

(Initially intended to include the here used CC BY-SA 4.0, but after some additional search I found out that all CC licenses are itself licensed public domain. The question remains for the WTFPL for example, which is clearly copyrighted but without a license for the license given. Could use of the text be revoked / sued?)

  • Infinite recursion detected.
    – Greendrake
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 7:50
  • Licenses and contracts run into copyrightability issues. To a large degree, they consist of standard boilerplate that doesn't belong to anyone. For example, the MIT license is probably not copyright-protected. In contrast, the GPL is very clearly copyrightable but it also has a preamble which clearly merits protection as a creative work. The GPL also has a separate one-line license for its contents.
    – amon
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:31
  • If you are asking "can you use pieces of one license in another", I don't think that the ideas expressed in the source license that you want to take one or more parts from are are copyrighted, only the wording is copyrighted. If you write the ideas in expressed in the in those parts in your own language, I don't think that would be infringement. Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 13:15

2 Answers 2


Whenever there is a license to share things, the license creator wants the license to be widely used, but absolutely does not want slightly different licenses that could be used to trick people, or that just cause legal problems when used.

Normal copyright law applies. And for the reasons above, the GPL license as an example allows you to copy the license verbatim but absolutely doesn’t allow you to make any modifications other than changing who is the person licensing a work.

I would be curious what happens legally if someone licenses something with a sneakily modified copy of the GPL and then makes claims against a licensee who assumed it was the original GPL.

  • 2
    GNU do allow you to customise and modify the GPL - you just cant call it the GPL any more, which should be obvious: gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html#ModifyGPL
    – user28517
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 9:25
  • I'll mark this as answer because it's most complete, would be nice if you could edit in Moo's remark.
    – borartr
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 10:20
  • 1
    Regarding the GPL, I think it's funny how the GPL license document itself is not GPL-compatible, or atleast very unclear. "Copyright (C) 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc. <fsf.org> Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed." (license text), or "If you want to use our preamble in a modified license, please write to <[email protected]> for permission." (@Moo's link)
    – borartr
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 10:31
  • Courts tend to frown on "sneakily modified" legal documents.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 16:10

The license is, unless otherwise stated, normal copyright terms - as in, unless it or the copyright owner grants you more permission, you cannot copy or modify it for your own use.

  • 1
    That seems logic to me. The issue I'm having is, when I build on 'free' existing projects, usually they include some sort of attribution and copy of the original license. If I were to redistribute, no matter how free the license states the software is, I could be sued for having no license for the license (which i have to include to fulfil the project license). So unless the license of the license is given, and explicitly as free as (or more free than) the license, the original project license is useless?
    – borartr
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 0:01
  • 2
    @borartr you are overthinking it - copying the license for a project as part of the redistribution of that project would either be considered an acceptable use, or covered under the license of that project. But the license on its own is just based on copyright.
    – user28517
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 0:22
  • @borartr lets put it this way, to accommodate your concerns, you would need a license for the license, and thus a license for the license for the license, and then a license for the license for the license for the license....
    – user28517
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 0:23
  • 2
    The multiple stacking license would not be necessary if the license's license is either itself (as your first suggestion) or public domain (as all CC licenses)
    – borartr
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 0:35
  • 4
    @borartr It’s not always true that a license is under itself. The GPL, for instance, is not licensed under the GPL — its license allows verbatim copying, but the preamble is a philosophical statement that may not be edited or applied to other licenses without FSF approval.
    – cpast
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 5:40

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