On my machine while developing I'm using icons from other application (in particular MS Paint and Paint.NET) as sign for the user that if he chooses to open that file (with our own internal command) it would open in those applications.

Is it legal to extract the icons from those applications and use them? Commit them to repository and then use on all developers' machines (even those that do not have Paint.NET installed)?

Let me make it clear once more. I'm not talking about including those icons in release version. Providing proper icons is up to graphics/skin designer. I'm talking just about the developing process.

Would extracting the icons in run-time either directly or based on file types change anything?

Recently there was a similar question: Can I legally use the icon of a different software? Yet mine differs in that I do not want to release those icons along my application.


Let me emphasis an issue which (judging by answers so far) was missed.

If using the icons in above described circumstances was against the license/law (again judging from answers) then how about asking operating system for an icon of the application or an icon associated with the file. This will likely end in showing the very same icon...

How about file browsing apps for which showing those icons is crucial part of their working rather than a nice but minor feature?

How (from license/law point of view) is operating system/file browser/... different from my own developed application that they are (as I assume they are) allowed to query those icons and show them while I'm not. After all one could claim that looking at his beautiful icons in file browser aided my development like unit tests do and so I should pay extra like I do for using those unit tests...

(Also if icon would be queried at run-time from operating system it might be irrelevant whether it is on my development machine or on a released version at client machine...)

  • 3
    If you're sure you won't release the icons, as there is no damage done, this question seems really academical. Commented May 25, 2012 at 6:25
  • Whether damage is done or not or even what "damage" actually is is questionable. Someone might claim that they beautiful icons made my work easier and since I didn't pay for such use its an abuse of their rights. ;) Commented May 25, 2012 at 6:34

4 Answers 4


Technically speaking, the moment you copy the icon, you have to abide by the licensing terms, or otherwise obtain the copyright holder's permission. So even using them in your own development efforts without ever including them in a distribution could be considered copyright infringement and punishable as such - although the chances of you getting sued over it are probably quite small.

There's an easy practical solution: Use placeholder artwork under a permissive license. Creative Commons is chock-full of icons that are good enough for this purpose, and without any legal obstacles for you - many of them can even be re-released as part of a commercial distribution. Just use those instead of ripping icons from a proprietary product under questionable legal circumstances.

  • Obviously I could use some other icons or draw some myself. But the question is interesting by its own. Commented May 25, 2012 at 19:54

Depends on the licensing terms applied to the icons. If they've come from the creative commons or other free license then yes. If you can't verify that the icons came from a third party source that's ok to use, or that the assets of the program itself are free to use then you should assume they're covered by copyright.

There's plenty of icon packs out there that don't have any copyright or are released under an open source/creative commons license, and they're already out there as graphic files with no extracting required. Why not just use one of those?

  • 1
    Are you sure this argument about copyright applies? He is not going to redistribute the icons.
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 14:21
  • Everything that you create is implicitly copyrighted to you (or your company if you do it on company time). Even if he's not planning on redistributing the icons there's always a risk that it will happen by accident (they publish the app and forget to replace one or two rarely-seen icons). Is it really worth the risk of a lawsuit, especially when there are already plenty of icon packs available on the internet with liberal licensing terms or fully public domain?
    – GordonM
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 14:51
  • Obviously I could use some other icons or draw some myself. But the question is interesting by its own. Commented May 25, 2012 at 19:53

You are using somebody else's work to develop your own product. It might be an intermediate step but so is e.g. unit testing. And you have to get a license for your unit testing tool as well even though you are not releasing the unit tests with your product. I guess a lawyer would not hesitate to sue you for it.

  • I'm not that sure of this unit test example (even thou at first it seemed a good one). Sure I have to pay for unit tests tool even if it is not released as a part of my software. But as it comes to apps on my disk (which icons I'm extracting) I already paid for them as well (or have them free). So I could use them, right... Commented May 25, 2012 at 21:05
  • @AdamBadura I'm not a lawyer, so maybe you are right. But I think it depends on which rights the license grants you. Usually with commercial software you are not given the right to "disassemble" the software.
    – scarfridge
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 7:08

Even for release - Using their logo to actually use their product would be like using their trademarked name. They would have an interest in it being so, not oppose it.

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