Best practices for using Licensed code?

OK then that brings up a question that I have…

I see 8 contributors to this repository

I’ve “rolled my own” Theme Component stealing from this. I did it for my own learning, not for production use, because of the license.

I also see that this theme appears to, within in, use several existing Theme Components that are licensed differently.

My question is this:

To what extent can I make a Theme Component using code copied from this Theme, and then change the license to make the Theme Component available to the community while not violating the copyright?

Or, said another way, to what extent would I need to remove or change things?

This is very important for me to understand as I begin to spread my wings as a Theme Author.

I know that this comes down to legal questions. I also know how much uncertainty exists in the areas of Intellectual Property law, and that is unlikely to resolve or settle (probably ever.) This is particularly uncertain at the moment with regard to software.

Given this, my question is more of a practical one, for my works within this community.

In practice I need some clarity regarding the “best (or most responsible) practices” for reusing purportedly copyrighted code, without getting bogged down in legal matters.

(Should this be split off into a new Topic or merged with something existing? I couldn’t find any pertinent recent Topics.)

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That’s a fair question. Generally derivative works should use the same licence as the work they are derived from. In fact that’s usually handled by an explicit clause in most popular open source licences.

I thought Copyright notices weren’t the same as a licence so I’m a little surprised by the content of that file.

Perhaps the author can chime in?

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You are correct about that @merefield. Here are a couple of helpful general references I found… but again, I can’t get bogged down in parsing the legal barriers which are too unsettled and too uncertain to rely on in any case.

I just want to code and create and borrow and share.

Copyright Licensing Under the Law | Intellectual Property Law Center | Justia.

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This is a question for your lawyer.

IANAL (and this is a message from me personally, not from CDCK), but since there’s no explicit license and it’s published on Github I can see an argument that it’s intended for people to use as they see fit. You’d likely lose any sort of legal case, though.

I would certainly be wary of using it, and I would be sure to remove any brand assets first though.

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Thank you @supermathie – your response helps to further illustrate the purpose of my question.

My lawyers (all of them) each offer different opinions and arguments, and the Courts are only producing increasingly inconsistent and conflicting rulings in this area of law. Paying more lawyers to offer more opinions is not the path I’m on here, and (as you implied) would likely not provide any reliable certainty whatsoever.

The fact that a work or a collection of (variously “copyrighted” and “licensed”) software components are purported to have a particular ownership or licensing does not render that legally so. In that sense, chasing down the “permissions” of purported owners of every bit of code seems futile.

We, as software architects, designers and coders, need to find ways to nullify these tyrannies of legal uncertainty (which will never go away IMHO).

It upsets me and interferes with my work with this community.

Of course this is a global problem, and I can’t solve or change that. But for the purposes of my activities within this community it would help me to hear from the powers that be here (in this community).

If the ownership or licensing of certain components and code which I borrow (or which I might inadvertently steal) should be challenged, I want it to be known that I did my due diligence and used my best efforts to be responsible – without also unnecessarily limiting my work.

These are the boundaries I’m trying to define more clearly.

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I believe that’s what the popular standard licenses seek to do: that is reduce doubt and explicitly grant specific freedoms so that recourse to lawyers is far less necessary.


Just to share a link to GitHubs guide:


Attribution is another important and widely-utilized method for establishing and discerning chain of title.

But everyone knows it would be ridiculously un-practicable to ever find and duly credit or compensate everyone in the chain of development for most any non-proprietary software.


IANAL, but I’ve got a lot of experience dealing with thorny open-source licensing issues.

Making code open source or public domain is an explicit act. In general, you cannot redistribute or license code you find unless you have permission from the authors.

I say in general because if code is on a site like GitHub, the author has likely accepted terms that allow others to view and fork that code. More on this at No License | Choose a License.

If you want to use this code for your own personal learning in a private repo, it’s unlikely anything bad will happen to you. I would discourage you from making that use public (because it could be construed as redistribution) and I would strongly discourage you from adding a license (because it puts downstream users at legal risk).

Personally, I would contact the authors and ask them to comply with the licenses of their dependencies and put a license on their own code. If they don’t respond, I wouldn’t use their code.


Thank you @merefield for that thorough yet concise reference. The article was a terrific primer on the subject which I will surely re-read many times.

What I’ve learned so far (since initiating this Topic) is how very important it is to be proactive and informed, and to add a license to every. single. thing I release!

“Permissionless Innovation” is completely out of control. And let us thank our lucky stars for that.

I’ve owned what has turned out to be a consequential technology patent since 2001. My partner (the inventor) and I made the carefully considered choice to (instead of monetizing it as proprietary) very publicly release the full technical specs, in the most rigorous standard of detail, and in the most openly and widely accessible place, because we wanted it to have the best and soonest chance for widespread adoption.

Thankfully, we succeeded. Just as we intended, our invention got noticed and put into widespread use for the good (not all may agree “good” :thinking:) of all humanity. I credit the US Patent system (“the people’s public repository of new and useful ideas”) for enabling this for us.

While patent law is one of the murkiest and least settled areas of law, history teaches us, time and time again, that permissionless innovation is a fundamentally necessary enabler of progress.

My reading of the Häußge primer reassured as well as enlightened me that the guardians of open source have provide us with the best possible “best practices” given the times and circumstances.

I also agree with @yanokwa that the responsible course of action in this circumstance is to

contact the authors and ask them to comply with the licenses of their dependencies and put a license on their own code. If they don’t respond, I wouldn’t use their code.


On a related note, this new licensing “model” caught my interest:

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