I preserve old software by asking copyright owners (often one author) to release the source code under an Open Source License, GPL or MIT. In many cases the source is gone, but the binaries still exist. Often they were released under some home made license 20 years ago. If I'm correct the binaries could be released under MIT, which would give them a world wide recognized license, keeping the copyright owner, but also make it possible to do derived works for the user in clear legal way? (I know that much of this would fall under "abandonware" but that is not a legal term). So the question is - is MIT a correct choice for binaries where the source code is lost?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of What is the "default" software license?
    – gnat
    Apr 11 '18 at 11:48
  • 5
    That question doesn't answer this question at all.
    – Beamie
    Apr 11 '18 at 11:51
  • 5
    @gnat: where in this question do you read "there is no knowledge of the original license"? Quite the opposite, the OP asked about a case where the author is available, only the source code is missing.
    – Doc Brown
    Apr 11 '18 at 12:38
  • 1
    @wondra LOL. I would think twice about using that software.
    – Beamie
    Apr 11 '18 at 13:00
  • 4
    @gnat: apparently there is a misunderstanding. Your comment above ("it explains what is considered as default when you have no knowledge of original license") IMHO implies the OP's (Beamie's) case is similar. But to my understanding, he knows the author, so it is very unlikely there is no knowledge of original license, and even if the author cannot remember what license he used 20 years ago, he can always pick a new license, so it actually does not matter.
    – Doc Brown
    Apr 11 '18 at 13:09

In every jurisdiction I know, the author or copyright holder of a software can pick whatever license they like, source code available or not. And nowhere in the MIT license does the term "source code" occur, so the answer is clearly yes.

However, make sure you are really talking to the person(s) who have the full copyrights for the program in stake, as mentioned @BerinLoritsch.

  • Providing that portions of the copyright are not individually owned... That's one of the reasons that the Apache Software Foundation has you signing a legal document stating that any code contributed is considered a work for hire--i.e. the ASF owns the code. If there is no clear ownership then all who worked on the project (or whoever inherited their copyrights) would have to agree. Apr 11 '18 at 12:41
  • @doc-brown That is also how I understood the MIT license. It just mentions "software", and not if it is in source code or binary form. Thanks for helping pointing this out.Creative Commons was the first I was thinking of for this case - but they even recommend against using it for software.
    – Beamie
    Apr 11 '18 at 12:48
  • @Beamie: Except CC0 (aka "Public Domain in jurisdictions where that exists and as close to PD as possible in jurisdictions where it doesn't"), which explicitly can be used for software. Apr 11 '18 at 13:32
  • One important caveat: if OP received the binaries under some license, they are still bound by that license. It is not generally possible to publish them under the MIT license if they weren't under MIT already. E.g. if they received binaries under the GPL, they cannot re-license them as MIT. Unfortunately, they cannot share GPL'ed binaries at all if they cannot produce the source :(
    – amon
    Apr 11 '18 at 14:04
  • The copyright owner might be able change to BSD-style at a later point. stackoverflow.com/questions/1409666/….
    – Beamie
    Apr 11 '18 at 16:07

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.