Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Julius » 18 May 2016, 16:09

Interesting article:
http://250bpm.com/blog:82

For art I can say the opposite is true, i.e. they share the art so that people can look at it, but not use.
I suspect that some coders do the same, i.e. here for you to learn from but not re-use etc.
But the above explanation does have its merits as well.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 18 May 2016, 16:44

I only read the article halfway through because it seemed really too far-fetched to me. And he pissed me by saying that projects without a license are open source, that's clearly wrong, as open source is defined very clearly in the Open Source Definition, and being open source implies respecting the 4 fundamental freedoms of free software, just like in the definition of the FSF. Calling such projects open source leads to confusion, and make a horde of uneducated users say e.g. that Unreal Engine 4 is open source... No license == all rights reserved == proprietary, that's simple. I personally call such projects "shared source" (I think that's the term used/that was used for the source access to MS Windows), or "with provided source", but never "open source" and even less "free/libre software".

IMO the main reason why the number of licensed projects on GitHub decreases is not because the developers are militants that want to neglect the concept of law, but quite simply because GitHub is becoming more and more popular, user-friendly (and noob-friendly). Most GitHub users nowadays have no open source or free software culture, but GitHub has managed to bring them to source sharing with its nice interface and huge user base. It's just a network effect.

On *all* GitHub repos where I opened a "Please add licensing information" issue (and that's probably more than 100), the answer was most of the time that they had no clue about licensing, and did not know it was important. So most of the time I had to lead them through choosealicense.org or similar to explain what would be a proper license for their need, and how they should apply it to their code.

Nowadays GitHub even makes it non-necessary to know how to use Git (and usually people who know how to use Git have a clue about software licensing), since you can upload/commit files with drag and drop like in Dropbox (ugh), and edit text files with the GitHub online editor. Or use the GitHub Desktop application and still ignore what Git does in the background. As I said already, all this leads to the GitHub population growing a lot with people that do not have a free software culture, and sometime even not a software development culture; they post their Unity3D game on GitHub because they want to develop it with a couple buddies and it's convenient, and don't care to put a license because they don't know what a license is. Usually they also don't care about using copyrighted material themselves, assets from older games, etc. (I take an example from the game development world as it fits our forum, but I've seen exactly the same for many other categories).

Even clearer, several users have argued with me that posting source code on GitHub automatically implied that it was open source, and e.g. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution (could be a misconception coming from YouTube's CC BY license, don't know). This is clearly wrong, but it's a vision that many users seem to have.

All in all, it's a matter of educating users about what are their rights and obligations regarding software code. Most people (at least in the capitalist western world) know that if they buy or download a music track from their favourite artist, it does not give them a right to reuse this song in their own compositions or videos (though some will still use it, either by ignorance or carelessness, or sometimes willingly for artistic or militant reasons). But then if you give them the music sheet for a protected song, they won't know so clearly that they're actually not allowed to play the song in public unless they were granted specific rights for that.
It's similar for software. If you give them binaries, most of the time they'll know that it's copyrighted material and that they maybe don't have all the rights to do whatever they want with it. But if you give them the source code for those binaries, then it's harder for them to see the legal implications, as for 40 years the industry has been tirelessly protecting the source code of its products, so users have all made the association hidden == private property, shared == public property.

To conclude this formless comment, I wanted to insist on my belief that most people posting code without license on GitHub don't want to forbid re-use. They just don't know that not choosing a license *implies* that their code can't be reused. They are used to copy-pasting code from StackExchange or forums, and don't know that all such content is subject to intellectual property rights even when they willingly chose to publish this content for everybody to read.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Andrettin » 18 May 2016, 21:22

Akien {l Wrote}:To conclude this formless comment, I wanted to insist on my belief that most people posting code without license on GitHub don't want to forbid re-use. They just don't know that not choosing a license *implies* that their code can't be reused. They are used to copy-pasting code from StackExchange or forums, and don't know that all such content is subject to intellectual property rights even when they willingly chose to publish this content for everybody to read.


That's my impression as well. I've seen, for instance, many people open topics on the /r/gamedev subreddit providing "free graphics" without any license; when asked for a license (and after it is explained to them the importance of having one), usually they license it under CC-BY.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Duion » 18 May 2016, 21:41

From a legal standpoint the author is always the author and has the rights on his work, so even if the author tells you, that his stuff is free and/or open source, it does not mean much, if the author decides to be a dick later, you still can get in legal trouble. The only thing that is pretty safe is a contract where a work is explicitely sold to someone and signed by the parties. Even creative commons is not a legal entity and cannot assure you the rights they claim you get.
But licenses for code are often ridiculous, since a skilled programmer can just rewrite the thing on his own and it will belong to him, nobody can claim a patent on a mathematical formula or a logical mechanism.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Andrettin » 18 May 2016, 22:00

Duion {l Wrote}:The only thing that is pretty safe is a contract where a work is explicitely sold to someone and signed by the parties.


Agreements (even informal ones) written through email are binding as well according to this article:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/oliverherzf ... contracts/
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 18 May 2016, 22:22

Duion {l Wrote}:But licenses for code are often ridiculous, since a skilled programmer can just rewrite the thing on his own and it will belong to him, nobody can claim a patent on a mathematical formula or a logical mechanism.

Clearly, that depends from the place you live in. In the US (and soon in Europe too, as apparently the EU is pretty fond of software patents), you can claim a patent on a logical mechanism. For example, zooming the icon hovered by a mouse cursor on an icon dock is a patented technology (likely by Apple, though I did not check), see e.g. Fedora having to patch it away from an otherwise fully free dock: http://pkgs.fedoraproject.org/cgit/rpms ... atch.patch

BTW, now that you know about it you can't claim ignorance of this patent if you were to breach it in your own application. Yeah, software patents suck.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby charlie » 19 May 2016, 09:36

That 80% number is complete nonsense.

To detect what license, if any, a project is licensed under, we used an open source Ruby gem called Licensee to compare the repository's LICENSE file to a short list of known licenses. However, it's important to note that this approach doesn't count a project as licensed if the README indicates a specific license or if individual project files contain a named license in the code comments.


No open source software I have ever worked on has come with a LICENSE file.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 19 May 2016, 09:49

charlie {l Wrote}:No open source software I have ever worked on has come with a LICENSE file.

Many do, as it's a requirement of autocrapautotools. But developers that have been or are still using autotools must be Day 1 FSF members and are well aware of licensing. Many projects do come with a LICENSE.txt or LICENSE.md though, and I guess (hope!) the algorithm used for the above article checked those too and not only "LICENSE".
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Duion » 19 May 2016, 11:44

I think the reason why most programmers ignore licenses is, because they subconsciously know how ridiculous it is. Among many developers, even some of those who do closed source commercial projects, snippets, ideas and examples are often shared as if they were public domain and nobody cares. The people that care most about licenses, especially writing their name into something tend also be the most incompetent ones.
Apple is a perfect example of this, since they almost never invent anything, they have to protect everything they got as good as possible.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 19 May 2016, 12:00

Duion {l Wrote}:The people that care most about licenses, especially writing their name into something tend also be the most incompetent ones.

Right, so all open source projects are developed by incompetent dudes. Linux, the GNU suite, LibreOffice... yeah those developers really suck.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby eugeneloza » 19 May 2016, 14:12

Akien, thanks again for always reminding me of adding license information :)
Usually I just forget about it...
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Julius » 19 May 2016, 14:40

Hehe, I knew this would be controversial :)

I do think his point that "no-license" can be interpreted as sort of buy-in that is similar to copyleft (but more extreme) has merit, even if most people (as he also says) don't even realize that while doing it.

It a bit like the cheap crazy copycat electronics that come out of Shenzhen/China... clearly all of them build on questionable legal sources (and the people who do the work learned from pirated books and work on pirated software), they don't give a s**t about GPL and such... yet you can get almost "open hardware" like specs for much of it and the results are at times quite amazing (especially regarding the price point). In a sense you can say that by rejecting the western copyright regime (instead of re-purposing like the copyleft movement) they have come up with something that is in many ways superior to what the west is able to do.

And also this quote:
It is often said that law is a kind of trade-off. You give up some of your personal freedom and what you get in return is a civilised way of resolving conflicts. But in the world of open source it's hard to think about it as a trade-off. You get obstacles and all kinds of legal threats, even criminalisation of what is, in many ways, a philanthropic enterprise. You get crypto wars and you get software patents and you get copyrightable APIs. And you get nothing in return. Can you think of a single case where law have helped you solve a problem you had in open source land?

Is quite on spot... FOSS is after all a sort of band-aid that creates a walled garden in which you are basically protected from all the legal crap as long as you play by a few simple rules of sharing alike etc.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby charlie » 19 May 2016, 21:40

Julius {l Wrote}:Hehe, I knew this would be controversial :)

It isn't controvesial; it is wrong. There's a distinction. I expect the vast majority of github projects do have a license, just the tool used to determine licensing was beyond simplistic, it was basically of no use whatsoever.

As pointed out by somebody else, it depended on a a standard required by autotools. I don't think I know a single project that uses autotools any more. It was outdated a decaded ago. What about non-C languages? The assumption of this 'LICENSE' file standard is so preposterous that the entire premise of the article and discussion should be dismissed.

If this were a courtroom, the Judge would dress down the prosecutor and throw the case out the minute this was presented as the only evidence.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby mdtrooper » 20 May 2016, 01:36

Because the people want to be cool...and they say "I have a project in github.".

But the important point is the people don't want know the free software and other idological things.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby oln » 20 May 2016, 15:12

charlie {l Wrote}:The assumption of this 'LICENSE' file standard is so preposterous that the entire premise of the article and discussion should be dismissed.

The licence chooser when you create a repository on github gives a LICENSE file if you pick a licence, so checking for that does makes some sense, even though one shouldn't base the data solely on that.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 20 May 2016, 16:45

oln {l Wrote}:
charlie {l Wrote}:The assumption of this 'LICENSE' file standard is so preposterous that the entire premise of the article and discussion should be dismissed.

The licence chooser when you create a repository on github gives a LICENSE file if you pick a licence, so checking for that does makes some sense, even though one shouldn't base the data solely on that.

Also, the metric is the same for the whole analysis, so it's still relevant to spot a trend. And based on my GitHub experience, most projects with a defined license to have a LICENSE{,.txt,.md} file, so it's not completely foolish to use it for a simple trend analysis.

Of course it's not fully accurate, but it still does show a trend: Among the GitHub projects, there is a big drop in the number of projects with a LICENSE file between 2008 and 2015. So there are two possible conclusions:
1) Either the new GitHub repos tend not to define a license at all (which is the assumption made in this article, even though it's not fully accurate based on the limitations of the analysis)
2) Or the new GitHub repos define a license, but they're cooler kids so they prefer to put their license in HEY_README_TO_KNOW_YOUR_RIGHTS_AND_OBLIGATIONS.txt
Or a mix of both, but I do think it's pertinent enough to assume that reason (1) is predominant over reason (2).

Now, what's wrong in the blog article is to claim that it represents the "number of projects with a license". The rest of the analysis stays plausible, once you acknowledge that you're only observing a subset of the total population of licensed projects, but that can hopefully be extrapolated. So there are maybe 30% or 40% of projects which are properly licensed, and not less than 20%, but the trend over the years is still likely true.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby charlie » 21 May 2016, 16:58

It's not even fully accurate? It's not even CLOSE to accurate. I have 10 projects on Github. ALL are licensed under a Free software license. NONE have a 'LICENSE' file. It is utter garbage to have any kind of debate on the issue based on a tool that simply uses this 1 test, and doesn't even (from what I read) check the Github settings for the license.

80% of projects not open source on Github? It's probably the exact opposite, probably 80% are licensed, and because of that almost every point in the article and on this topic is a giant heap of pointlessness.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 21 May 2016, 17:00

You totally missed my point apparently. At least I've tried...
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby leilei » 22 May 2016, 02:16

To me, it's usually the 'COPYING' file.


Also consider there are a group of people that treat Github as a Dropbox without understanding the purpose of the site.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby charlie » 22 May 2016, 10:48

Akien {l Wrote}:You totally missed my point apparently. At least I've tried...

No, I didn't miss your point. You are trying to say there is a trend based on vacuous nonsense. You "generously" allowed for adjusting the estimate from 20% licensed to "30% or 40%" based on, I dunno, a hunch? Based on what? Come back with some actual facts and figures and then maybe the discussion goes somewhere.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 22 May 2016, 12:53

charlie {l Wrote}:
Akien {l Wrote}:You totally missed my point apparently. At least I've tried...

No, I didn't miss your point. You are trying to say there is a trend based on vacuous nonsense. You "generously" allowed for adjusting the estimate from 20% licensed to "30% or 40%" based on, I dunno, a hunch? Based on what? Come back with some actual facts and figures and then maybe the discussion goes somewhere.

Based on my activity on GitHub? https://github.com/akien-mga
Based on the number of open source projects I packaged for my distro, and the huge number I don't package because they don't have a proper license? http://people.mageia.org/u/akien.html

Come on, I don't need flawed statistics to know the trends on GitHub. I spend my life there.
I can't speak for the whole of GitHub, but as far as open source games go (or I should say "shared source", since most of them don't include any licensing information), I know my field.


And I'll quote my earlier post, as you *definitely* missed it or chose not to acknowledge it:
Akien {l Wrote}:Of course it's not fully accurate, but it still does show a trend: Among the GitHub projects, there is a big drop in the number of projects with a LICENSE file between 2008 and 2015. So there are two possible conclusions:
1) Either the new GitHub repos tend not to define a license at all (which is the assumption made in this article, even though it's not fully accurate based on the limitations of the analysis)
2) Or the new GitHub repos define a license, but they're cooler kids so they prefer to put their license in HEY_README_TO_KNOW_YOUR_RIGHTS_AND_OBLIGATIONS.txt


So yes, the data used in this bullshit article is NOT representative of all GitHub trends. But it shows that most new projects don't use any file named LICENSE*. So either the demographics moved to a new way to define licenses (it started at 60%+, so it wasn't so bad in 2008 to estimate trends), or they don't define licenses anymore, or a mix of both. Yeah, I've just said exactly the same thing as in my quote again, but it seemed that rephrasing was needed.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Akien » 22 May 2016, 13:06

All in all, I don't really care about the article linked in the OP and the method it used. Based on my own experience, the trend it described is obvious. I've explained my understanding of this trend in my first answer, and it's not far from leilei's interpretation that most new GitHub users use it as a Dropbox. And most won't license their Dropbox contents.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby charlie » 22 May 2016, 15:01

Well at least you admit it is a hunch, based on anecdotal experience.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby Julius » 22 May 2016, 15:13

Ahh, come on! You guys are derailing the lovely discussion we had about why people choose not to license their works even though they seem to have no problem with sharing the source code. The exact numbers or (faulty) methods for obtaining them are really besides the point.
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Re: Why 80% of the projects on Github have no license?

Postby brmbrmcar » 18 Aug 2016, 22:36

I license my work, but don't care about the state. I just don't want others using it to start trolling others.
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