I'm developing a simple text editor, just to practice a little bit.

I'm developing it under Linux but since I am using Qt as GUI Framework I can easily compile this on a Windows or Mac with the same code (in other words, it's cross-platform).

Qt offers a function QIcon::fromTheme(). This function allows me to get the standard Icon for e.g. the New Document Icon and use it for whatever I want. These Icons are sadly only available on Linux. However, I wrote a simple function to save these icons as PNG files in different formats (16x16 up to 1024x1024) so that I can use these on a Windows as well.

Now my question, is it even legal to use these images on windows as well? And would you find it strange if such icons appear in a windows program? Because Linux has a whole different style than windows... Same thing with OS X'.

The New Document Icon for example would look similar to this:

  • Please tell me what to improve if you down-vote this question.
    – Davlog
    Oct 3, 2013 at 19:41

3 Answers 3


Icons, like all other products of human creative effort, are automatically copyrighted to their authors. By default, you have no right to redistribute them. Whether or not you may reuse or or sell them with your program depends entirely on the license under which they are available.

Being the standard icon for a particular platform has no bearing on that; the image is protected under copyright as this particular drawing of a document page. This means that you could freely draw your own representation of an empty page and use that, but to reuse the actual image used elsewhere, you must find out under what conditions the entire desktop environment you're using is licensed to you, and whether this covers the bundled images or not.

  • "all ... products of human creative effort, are automatically copyrighted" is hardly true. First you have to consider the jurisdiction but generalizing them still leads to a different conclusion. Think about it. I could write a program that generates every possible 16x16 pixel icon (even to 32-bit color depth) publish it on a website and then bam, I own 'em all. Of course not. Icons of low resolution are great examples of something generally not protected by copyright. Now, if it expresses a registered trademark image, that is another matter but still has nothing to do with copyright. Oct 3, 2013 at 20:46
  • @CleverIdeaWidgetry "Icons of low resolution are great examples of something generally not protected by copyright." Wow, that's news to me. Is it the low resolution that does it? Regardless, I think it is safest to assume that "products of human creative effort are copyrighted" unless you know for sure otherwise.
    – Eric King
    Oct 3, 2013 at 23:30
  • @CleverIdeaWidgetry - It's only 1099 billion icons, worth 1225 Tb. And you'll own only the ones that have not been published yet. For the other ones, you'll get sued. That said, you are correct in raising that the copyright is not automatic everywhere.
    – mouviciel
    Oct 4, 2013 at 7:20
  • Icons, like all other products of human creative effort, are automatically copyrighted to their authors - not true, eg. chess games or chess openings are not copyrightable. Oct 4, 2013 at 9:19
  • @mouviciel It is more than just "not automatic everywhere". Some things just don't matter enough; all creative effort simply doesn't rate protection. A very practical example is that tweets aren't copyright-able because they are just generally too short to be meaningful and qualified as meritorious of protection. And low resolution icons are, in my opinion, analogous to tweets. At best, a single solitary sentence equivalent of the graphics world. Oct 5, 2013 at 23:01

It depends on the licensing for your theme. A lot of them are Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, but some are GPL, or even commercial. I highly doubt any of the licenses limit you to one operating system, but if you're redistributing your application to people outside your organization, you'll have to deal with the redistribution terms of the specific license. The default theme probably follows the same license as the rest of Qt.


I would say that you should try and either

A) Come up with a consistent look and feel for your application over the whole set of computing devices you support to gather a brand awareness.

B) Stick with the look and feel of each environment so that your app looks as polished and "in-place" as possible.

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