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I am a junior software developer and found the licensing confusing, partly because senior devs around me have no idea either.

Below I explore scenarios where a software developer uses other software. For example, I make up here three cases:

  • Dev uses a Linux Distro, and inside Linux the code editor VSCode, and also runs other programs without ever glancing at the source code - to learn from the output.
  • Dev distributes a program that imports other people's programs
  • Dev only runs software and uses the result of those programs in the code.

For the first case, I would assume that my duties are only with the source code, so the first item is fine.

For the second one, if you distribute code that uses other people's code, then you should make sure the license is correct, and will depend on which imports you have.

For the third one, I am not sure what is the solution, so any clarifications are welcome.

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  • Why -1 in a specific, on topic question showing clear effort ?
    – Mah Neh
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 22:04
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    I didn't downvote, but I'm a computer programmer by trade and I do not understand the meaning of "only runs this imports elsewhere" nor "only uses the result of those programs in the code."
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 22:26
  • @phoog Np I explain. You can train a neural network, and only use the product from the code, which is a set of trained weights for example. Indeed some companies seem to also license the output, or even have different licenses for those like Meta AI
    – Mah Neh
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 11:08
  • If what you are asking about is github copilot you should say that in the question. The questions surrounding the source and content of "creativity" are so different between that and say word that it is important to distinguish.
    – User65535
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:40
  • @User65535 no copilot is secondary, I am analizying the 3 cases and asking whether that is lawful or not
    – Mah Neh
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 18:46

2 Answers 2

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In general, the output of a program is not copyrighted by the author of the program. When you write a novel in Word, Microsoft doesn't own any copyright in your novel. When you prepare financial statements with Excel, Microsoft doesn't own any copyright in those either.

There can be exceptions. Some programs (like GNU Bison, a parser generator) actually do output parts of their own source code, and their source code is copyright to the author. To clarify things, GNU made a statement in the license for Bison that officially says they don't have copyright to what it outputs. You should expect programs of this type to have such an exception, and if they don't, maybe ask the author or don't use them.

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  • Interesting. What about Copilot ?
    – Mah Neh
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 22:06
  • @MahNeh Nobody knows yet. Someone would have to sue you and the court would decide. Possibly even the Supreme Court, if you get famous. Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 22:10
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Microsoft has no copyright in the novel you write using Microsoft Word. But they could sell the software with a license that would give them rights. The obvious effect is that people would instantly stop buying the software.

A real life case was the “Metrowerks” compilers that sold for several hundred dollars. You could get a free (no payment) copy aimed at students. That copy didn’t allow you to make money with software developed using the free software. They did allow you to develop software for free, try to sell it, and buy the paid-for compiler just before you sold your software. I see no reason why this would be illegal.

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