There are a number of companies which make their source code available in various public forums like Github or Gitlab. These products are not open source, but the source is available for public commentary or research purposes, or simply for the appearance of transparency. Of particular note, Gitlab themselves makes their enterprise edition source code available.The code in this repository has a license located here.

I have usually assumed that source code licenses are only relevant in the event that you attempt to prepare a copy of the software, not if you build/otherwise use it for personal (or even organizational) purposes. Thus, my question is: can you acquire a copy of the source code for a "source available" product without binding yourself to the terms of the license that is distributed with that source? If you do, can you build/run it without being bound by said license?


2 Answers 2


If you do, can you build/run it without being bound by said license?

No, you cannot. Because there is no way to "build/run" it without making a copy. You copy the sourcecode, before you can run your compiler. That is the copy you are making, not copying the file that results from this process.

A valid question might be, are you bound by the license? Well, that is up for lawyers and a court to decide, but in all countries I know, copyright is automatic for anything worth copying. And the copyright holder can grant licenses to people to allow things. So arguing you are not bound by a specific license would mean you would argue that you are bound by the legal default, which in most countries is "You cannot copy that. At all. Unless you have explicit permission". That argument would sound like "I stole all 10, because the offer of buy-one-get-one-free was not legally binding". Maybe it wasn't. But that doesn't mean you get to do something unrelated illegal instead.

Now, there are many exceptions for "personal use". You can sing any song in the shower. I would assume you can compile any program there, too. You just cannot use that program for anything worthwhile, the same way you cannot record your song in the shower and sell it.

  • Please don’t compile software in the shower. Or worse, in the bath. Or worst, with power plugged in.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 19:17

You can do with the source code: whatever copyright law allows, and whatever a license by the copyright holder allows. Copyright law may allow you to download a copy of the source code if the copyright holder made it available voluntarily for everyone to download, that’s it.

There are possible exceptions for personal use, which will be highly limited, beyond that if a license sets conditions then you either follow the conditions or you cannot copy the source code. And practically anything requires copying the source code.

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