I have a question regarding licensing. There is one question that asks essentially the same thing, however, I'm not satisfied with the answers given. Can you help me refining my questions so that I can ask it and get all my points addressed without posting a duplicate?

This is existing question: License violation within git history . My situation is very similar, except that I neglected to put license headers in the first revisions and I'm wondering if these older revisions will essentially be unlicensed once I set my project to public.

All answers in the existing question hinge on manipulating the code base (by leaving out files or manipulating the blob). That will always be possible and has no bearing on my question: In these cases the author published a correct version and another person manipulated it. In my scenario, the bona-fide as-published version does not have a license (or violates the license in the case of the existing question).

I think the core question is: Does an old (not-tagged) revision count as a stand-alone publication which needs a license or can a user be required to take an actual release into account? The ground rule is: A published version needs a license in every source file or it is not licensed. Does a revision in the VCS count as publication in that sense or only revisions tagged for release?

3 Answers 3


Honestly, Jann, it looks like I was wrong, and nobody particularly cares. You've bent over backwards to try to do this right, much more so than the usual low-rep question author, for which I thank you. I think you should just go ahead and write your question how you want to write it. If you can incorporate any of the advice given here, so much the better.


If your original question (https://opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/10005/do-i-need-license-notifications-already-in-the-first-version-available-in-my-ver, now deleted) concerns code written by others that you included in your repository without the required license indications, then it is very much a duplicate of the question you (and MadHatter in the comments on the original question) mentioned.

However, if this concerns only code written (and owned) by yourself, then it would be sufficient to mention that and it is no longer a duplicate.

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    I disagree with your second paragraph. The core question is if past revisions in a public repo have to comply with the same rules we apply to released software, be it "No license violations" (in the potential duplicate question) or "Must have proper license notice" (in my case). Jun 16, 2020 at 13:29
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    @JannPoppinga: You might want to review this question: opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/233/…. Unlicensed code gives others very few rights. Jun 16, 2020 at 13:50
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    Thanks, that was helpful. However, that doesn't cover exclusion of warranty if I'm not mistaken. Also, github's TOS state that if I don't add a license, it defaults to certain terms (section D.5). I don't know how this "default licensing" relates to copyrighting. Does "default licsensing" supersede copyright like explicit licensing does? (In Germany e.g. I cannot legally copyright my work as public domain, but I can BSD-license it, which remove some of the rights I would have under copyright.) Jun 16, 2020 at 14:22
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    I've been holding back to see what others said, but I think Bart has put his finger on a very important issue, which I'd missed: is this all your own code? Because if it is, then there aren't any licence obligations on you, so you can't violate them, and the question indeed then falls back to "I accidentally released some of my code, on github, without a licence, what rights (if any) do others have with respect to it?". I think that issue definitely needs clarifying.
    – MadHatter Mod
    Jun 16, 2020 at 15:04
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    @JannPoppinga, a comment thread on meta isn't the right place to answer that, but they are valid concerns to include in your question on the main site. (and I don't think it is addressed yet in an existing question). Jun 17, 2020 at 5:25

You can post this question as it is. Simply link to the other question and include the same explanation you gave here of why you're not satisfied with existing answers - that's enough that the questions are not duplicates of one another.

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