There are a number of licenses that contain the term "binary distribution". For example, https://github.com/boostorg/beast/blob/develop/LICENSE_1_0.txt:

A simple permissive license only requiring preservation of copyright and license notices for source (and not binary) distribution.

What does this term precisely mean? Specifically, can I use shell scripts (e.g., https://github.com/boostorg/beast/blob/develop/tools/build-and-test.sh) without preservation of copyright notice? Do bash scripts count as both source and binary files? Or does "binary" mean only something produced by the equally vague term "compiler"?

  • 3
    Crossposting is discouraged on SE. Please choose either Law or Open Source for your question but not both.
    – doneal24
    Oct 25, 2022 at 12:32

2 Answers 2


What you've quoted is merely the summary.

The rest of the licence clarifies that the requirement to include copyright notices, the licence, and disclaimer applies:

unless such copies or derivative works are solely in the form of machine-executable object code generated by a source language processor.

This does still needs application and interpretation in individual circumstances, as most legal attempts to categorize do, but it's more precise that the summary. I have tried to find any judicial interpretation of this license; I have not found any.

(Sorry, but I will avoid answering whether this applies to any particular kind of file or generation process.)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Pat W.
    Oct 26, 2022 at 15:45

Do bash scripts count as both source and binary files?

No. Absent a definition of binary file or of shell script in the license, the commonplace meaning of the terms will apply. Under the commonplace meaning of binary file and of shell script, the latter counts as source, not as binaries.

In the license at issue, the language "machine-executable object code generated by a source language processor" reinforces the argument that shell scripts are not binaries. That is because all commands, keywords, and symbols/signs in a shell script are directly provided by a human and without the need for a processor to convert that code to something else.

Even if the script also contained binary code, as in the case of a shellcode (example, for a buffer overflow exploit), the presence of that shellcode does not change the fact that it is embedded in a script to which the previous paragraph applies.

  • Can I just download and execute a bash script without copying any license?
    – cppbest
    Oct 26, 2022 at 7:07
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    @cppbest "Can I just download and execute a bash script without copying any license?" According to the license, no. The requirement to include the copyright notices as well as "this entire statement" applies to "use, [...] execute, [...] and to prepare derivative works of the Software". Oct 26, 2022 at 7:52
  • @IñakiViggers: Many shell scripts lack sufficient originality to merit copyright protection. The fact that shell scripts support comments, however, would suggest that those which are sufficiently original as to merit copyright protection should have notices included.
    – supercat
    Oct 26, 2022 at 21:17
  • @supercat "Many shell scripts lack sufficient originality to merit copyright protection." I agree. But it seems to me that copyright protection would cover scripts like the one the in the OP's question, even if only for the multitude of command options involved. Oct 26, 2022 at 23:30
  • @IñakiViggers: If one were to use the entire shell script verbatim except for the copyright notice, that would seem a license violation. If. however, the script includes code to accommodate many possible targets and usage scenarios, and one excises everything beyond what's needed for one usage scenario on one target, what's left might not be copyrightable. Much of the useful originality in shell scripts is focused on their accommodation of different use cases. Eliminate that, and what's left would often fall under the scenes-a-faire doctrine.
    – supercat
    Oct 27, 2022 at 17:42

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