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I plan to write some tech blogs, where one of them showcases an application from GitHub without a license. Now I just forked it as a backup because I don't want my viewers can't find it someday if the original uploader deleted it.

Now instead of showing the original GitHub URL of the application, I put my fork URL, where I don't change any bit of it. Of cause I will cite the original URL as a backup link in my blog.

The question: Is it legal that I use my forked URL inside my blog (and only use the original GitHub URL as backup)? Since I don't have any right to the repo besides the right from GitHub of forking it.

PS: Now, I don't modify the repo itself at all. If any visitor from my blog click on GitHub to download. Any notice I need to share on my blog to protect myself?

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    Good question. Generally, something that has no (permissive) license attached to it, is considered to be protected to the most extent possible. But since it's open-source and public, this doesn't really make sense. Maybe Github specifies a default license for this case? I don't know.
    – PMF
    Aug 14 at 6:37
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    @PMF While confusing, "open-source" and "source-available" are completely unrelated properties. The code is certainly considered all-rights-reserved, just like a random image found on a search engine. Aug 14 at 17:10
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    Depending on the sort of source material, have you considered reaching out to the author? It's possible they would be willing to open source it or grant you a license personally. Given that they shared it on GitHub, it's obvious they want people to see it, so they may be amenable to that sort of thing. Aug 14 at 19:45
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    @PMF, by uploading something to GitHub, you agree to let people do two things: view it, and create on-GitHub copies of it.
    – Mark
    Aug 15 at 0:22
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    Keep in mind that by pointing your readers to your fork of the application, your readers will be directed to a potentially out-of-date version of the app. If the original author publishes new updates, your fork will not reflect those updates unless you manually pull the changes. I suggest linking to the original repo (which is being a good neighbor anyway), with a secondary "mirror" link that points to your fork.
    – josh3736
    Aug 16 at 0:35

2 Answers 2

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There seems to be no controversy about whether you are allowed to make a copy of a publicly accessible GitHub repository by forking it. As they agreed by accepting the GitHub terms of service and making their repository public, the repository owner grants that and a few other rights to all GitHub users.

The actual question seems to be whether you may then publish the URL of your fork. Of course you may, to the same extent that you may publish anything else. The URL is data, not a creative work, so copyright does not apply to it. The considerations are the same as for publishing URL of the original repo.

There are things you might say about the URL or the repository it identifies that could get you into trouble, such as claiming rights you do not have, or misrepresenting the rights that others have or that you can grant to them. Or publishing false and derogatory remarks about the code might conceivably land you in hot water. But the URL itself is not an issue.

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  • Just because a repository is publicly accessible does not mean it is open source licensed. Even if it was, some open sourced licenses do not allow a exact clone, attribution must be provided with some for example.
    – User65535
    Aug 16 at 8:56
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    @User65535 not really relevant, because githubs terms of service mean that you do grant license to copy for the purpose of forking and other activities on github if the repository is public. This isn't an open source license yes, but that's a different issue.
    – Cubic
    Aug 16 at 10:00
  • ... and again, @User65535, the OP has been quite clear that that is not what the question is about. Aug 16 at 12:09
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When you don't specify a licence, the author retains almost all of their rights:

You're under no obligation to choose a license. However, without a license, the default copyright laws apply, meaning that you retain all rights to your source code and no one may reproduce, distribute, or create derivative works from your work.

https://docs.github.com/en/repositories/managing-your-repositorys-settings-and-features/customizing-your-repository/licensing-a-repository

However, by making a repository public, the author grants certain minimal rights under Github's ToS. These seem to line up with exactly what you are doing: making a public fork in case the original goes away, and sharing unmodified code on Github itself.

Note: If you publish your source code in a public repository on GitHub, according to the Terms of Service, other users of GitHub.com have the right to view and fork your repository.

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    Yes, Repos on GitHub can be forked legally. The question is, is it legal that I use my forked URL inside my blog (and only use the original GitHub URL as backup).
    – user95432
    Aug 14 at 8:24
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    @user95432 If "use my forked URL" you mean to post your URL anywhere, the answer is certainly yes. But I think you would have no right at all to copy or use the code in your blog. Aug 14 at 17:13
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    The specific section of legalese appears to be D.5 License Grant to Other Users: "If you set your pages and repositories to be viewed publicly, you grant each User of GitHub a nonexclusive, worldwide license to use, display, and perform Your Content through the GitHub Service and to reproduce Your Content solely on GitHub as permitted through GitHub's functionality (for example, through forking)." So, user95432 has "the right to display the content through Github's functionality".
    – IMSoP
    Aug 15 at 11:29

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