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There's a (possibly abandoned) library I'm using in my project. Its Google Code project page mentions it's MIT licensed. Nowhere in the code itself, nor any of the included files, is there a copyright notice or license specified. The closest thing is the author's name in one of the headers.

Since the sole requirement of the MIT license is its inclusion of the copyright notice, which is non-existant in this libary, what's the best manner to proceed?

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What is the name of the project? Can you provide a link to it? –  Robert Harvey Apr 4 '13 at 17:42
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Have you tried to contact the author - could potentially add a copyright notice for you. –  Billy Moon Apr 4 '13 at 18:14
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2 Answers

The best thing to do is contact the original author and request that he or she update the repository to include a proper license file and copyright notice, along with license headers and copyright notices in each file.

If the author is totally unreachable, then you're on shaky ground, and I'd say the safest thing you can do is not use the code at all. The primary risk, in my view, is the possibility that the code might not actually be MIT-licensed, owing to the absence of a proper license declaration.

However, if you must use this code and you're sure that:

  1. the original author1 did not include a license file with the code, but
  2. the original author claimed that it was MIT-licensed in some authoritative way, and furthermore
  3. the original author is the only author of all the work in the codebase (or you can correctly identify all authors and/or copyright holders)

then your best course of action might be to add those things (license, headers, notices) yourself in your distribution of the code. Your use of the code under an MIT license would be generally defensible under the legal principle of estoppel ("the legal principle that bars a party from denying or alleging a certain fact owing to that party's previous conduct, allegation, or denial"). Because the author made a previous claim that the code was MIT-licensed, the author cannot pursue legal action based on a premise contrary to that claim.

Of course, all this is hardly sound legal advice -- I'm not a lawyer, and I present this information only to demonstrate how one might begin to formulate a proper legal defense for reusing the code. It seems like reasonably strong justification to my layman legal sensibilities, but software is a popular domain for niche regulations, so there may be jurisdictional and international concerns that I have not addressed. As always, your safest course of action is to consult a lawyer.

1 I place emphasis on original author to eliminate from my scope of argument the possibility that this is a re-hosted copy of the code from which the re-hoster lazily dropped the license file.

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Under the Berne copyright convention, almost every original creation is automatically copyrighted, whether or not a copyright notice is affixed.

Therefore, there should be no issue with adding the author's copyright notice yourself (i.e., explicitly stating the copyright that the Berne convention already says in effect), using the original author's name (which you found in the headers) and the date from Google Code and from version control. (For projects under development over a multiyear period, the U.S. Copyright Office says to use "the year of first publication", while GNU suggests listing each year with a nontrivial change.

The most polite and safest thing to do is absolutely to contact the original author, but if that fails, then my understanding of copyright law is that there should be no problem with adding the author's copyright notice yourself.

I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, etc.

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