When source code is released on the internet and neither a license nor a copyright notice is indicated, what is the code licensed under?

I can make a fork of the code?

  • 11
    The default, under copyright law most everywhere, is "all rights reserved", even if copyright isn't claimed.
    – derobert
    Mar 29, 2015 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


If you live in a country that has ratified the Berne Convention (you probably do), then anything that can be copyrighted is copyrighted, whether or not it is mentioned explicitly. An explicit mention of copyright can help settle disputes and can lead to higher damages in case of violations, but it is not a requirement to claim the protection of copyright.

If you find something on the Internet, there may be a presumption that you're allowed to download it, use it, and possibly even modify it for your private use (that last one depends on the jurisdiction). This is a presumption, not an evident right. If you find code on the author's web page with a mention that you can download it and use it, it's a safe presumption. If you find it on a file sharing website next to other content that is clearly not redistributed legally, then this is not a safe presumption.

In no case can you redistribute the code or a modified version of it without an explicit authorization from the author or rights holder.

If you know who the author is, contact them and ask them to put an explicit license on the work. That's what free software distributions do — and if they can't find the author, they don't distribute the code.

  • 5
    I've starting politely asking people to add licenses because it's not worth the trouble of using someone's code unless they tell you how they want it to be used. For example, although both MIT and GPLv3 are "open source", but there is a world of difference between what you can do with those two licenses. Mar 29, 2015 at 23:17
  • 2
    @MikePennington: Isn't that where the term "open sores" comes from?
    – dotancohen
    Mar 29, 2015 at 23:17

I think you shouldn't use that source unless somehow you manage permission from the owner. Public open source projects are generally provided with a public license, at least most of the time. Sometime it may happen that the source is intended for public use, but the owner somehow forgot to mention that either in written document or license agreement. So if you think that's the case, you should contact the owner at least leave a message or comment where you got the source, if that's possible...

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