When a software project wants to use Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License that denies making derivatives, does it conflict GitHub terms of service clause F.1 that says:

By setting your repositories to be viewed publicly, you agree to allow others to view and fork your repositories.

Eg. is forking (allowed by GitHub) the same as making derivatives (denied by CC). A fork has an owner, has its own download links, has separate history from the original repo etc. and any other feature you might expect from a "derivative".

I know that using CC for a software project is not the brightest idea but some are still doing this and I wonder if it is even allowed by the GitHub terms.

IANAL is OK, I just want to see some opinions about it

  • 1
    I would tend to say this isn't a problem. In technical Git terms, "creating a fork" seems to correspond to git clone. Making an exact clone of a repository seems perfectly in-bounds for CC-ND. Once you start modifying that fork, then you're violating the license; however, AFAIK, the Github terms don't require the right to make modifications to a fork.
    – apsillers
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:04
  • 3
    Creative commons licenses should not be used for software (See wiki.creativecommons.org/Frequently_Asked_Questions : Can I apply a Creative Commons license to software?) . I think there is a real risk that your license is not providing the protections you think it is providing; the authors of the license are explicitly telling you it won't work properly.
    – Brian
    Jul 17, 2013 at 13:51
  • I'm well aware that CC license should be kept as far from software as possible. Some repos are using this license though and it seemed to me there might be a conflict between forking an no-derivs rule.
    – Andris
    Jul 17, 2013 at 18:05

2 Answers 2


Generally, the term "forking" means taking some codebase and making a modified version of it. However, Github uses the term "forking" to mean "use of Github's fork feature", which simply creates an unaltered clone of a repository by use of git clone.

A fork has an owner, has its own download links

If you consider trivial alteration of related metadata to constitute the creation of a derivative work, I don't see how anyone could ever legally share a copy of a CC-ND work. If I put up someone else's CC-ND video on YouTube, have I created a derivative work because my username is different from the author's, or the URL where the video is available is different? If you think the answer is "yes, that's a derivative work", then it seems impossible to share a CC-ND work at all, which is contrary to the entire point of the license.

A fork has... separate history from the original repo

It does not -- the fork actually has a history identical to the original repo. That's the entire point of git clone. If you're worried that your repo may differ at some future time because the original author created a modified version, that's not a valid concern, either. Imagine if I shared someone else's CC-ND music on my website: if the original artist modified some of his tracks, I have no responsibility to update the old versions of the tracks I'm currently sharing.

From the information you've presented here, it looks like Github has nothing to say about you restricting modifications on your repo content.


Github doesn't force any licensing by default, and most of the code hosted on Github is not licensed.

You're basically free to use the license you want, but please consider this article before.

I am not a lawyer so I don't know the exact terms of service of Github, but, as apsillers was commenting, doing a git clone is not prohibited as long as no modifications are made to the code. (you will need a license that at least authorize to see and download the code, but you shouldn't be using github if you're not ready to do that anyways...)

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