Basically, my knowledge on the issue is zilch other than the fact that open-source and closed-source exists.

I'm a web developer (not a designer in the slightest), so I look online for things like icons. I've always been a big fan of these icons, which have a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License. As far as I can see, this license says 'do whatever you want with them as long as you have a link back to me somewhere'. Is that assumption correct?

Just today I found a new icon set, with a much more confusing license (found here), and to be quite honest I have no idea if I'm allowed to use them or not.

  • At the moment I want to just use them for toy stuff that might never see the light of day, but then my source code is stored on Github, is it legal to store the icons there where they're publicly accessible?

  • If I put them on my personal website that might have ads on it to make me five cents every now and then, is that legal?

  • If I use them on a site that offers a free service to users, is that legal?

  • If that site then starts making money (via things like paid subscriptions) or gets bought out by someone (highly unlikely but one day possible) is that legal?

Is there some noob guide out there that explains all this stuff, because I would hate to start using this sort of stuff now only to have to change it all later. Even if I buy the icons, there's still licensing issues that I don't understand! :(

And this sort of stuff keeps popping up more and more often...

  • 5
    As a side note, something you would love is iconfinder.com - it's the Google of icon searching. I use it for pretty much all my projects.
    – Sergio
    Feb 23, 2011 at 13:37
  • 2
    @Sergio Tapia: Holy cow, right you are! omigosh I'm going to have an icon party :D Feb 23, 2011 at 14:31

4 Answers 4


Something like this, maybe?

Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing by Andrew M. St. Laurent

It's an open book (check the link).

enter image description here

  • I can't believe there's an entire book for licenses. :x Seems like something a lawyer should handle and not a developer. Still I guess we should all have at least superficial knowledge of each. Personally, I enjoy using stuff that is released on the MIT license - no bs and straight to the point of what I can and cannot do with it.
    – Sergio
    Feb 23, 2011 at 13:36
  • 1
    @Sergio, considering that developers often bring in libraries from various sources, each with their own licensing, it is quite important for the developers to understand the overall licensing. Now there are so many 'free' and 'open source' licenses out there that you have to be careful which restrict and which do not.
    – Arcege
    Feb 23, 2011 at 14:05
  • 1
    @Sergio Tapia - I can't believe there's an entire book for X programming language. :x Seems like something a developer should handle and not a lawyer. Still I guess we should all have at least superficial knowledge of each. Personally, I enjoy using stuff that is released ... ;)
    – Rook
    Feb 23, 2011 at 14:18
  • Sorry Sergio, I couldn't resist the way you put it ;)
    – Rook
    Feb 23, 2011 at 14:19
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    "considering that developers often bring in libraries from various sources, each with their own licensing, it is quite important for the developers to understand the overall licensing." which is where open source policies come in. E.g. we have a policy that any OSS tool/library/whatever we want to use has to be approved first by legal, unless its license is on the list of approved licenses (which is short).
    – jwenting
    Feb 24, 2011 at 10:17

http://www.tldrlegal.com/ <== Summarizes licenses rather nicely.

update (fair comment about just dropping a link and calling it an answer): The site I linked explains different open-source licenses in concise layman's terms, pointing out what exactly you can, cannot and must do with software bound by a specific license - eg, use it in a commercial apps, not have to distribute your source code if you use their library etc.

  • 2
    would you mind explaining more on what it does and what it's good for? "Link-only answers" are not quite welcome at Stack Exchange
    – gnat
    Apr 18, 2013 at 5:36
  • I think that's great - if you already know what all the aspects of thelicence are - so tldrlegal is create if you know all about licences and want to choose one for a particular project, but not if you want to learn about, for example, what 'include licence' means...
    – Joe
    May 4, 2013 at 7:40

Edit: misread option 2 in initial posting

The first 1 and 3 aren't commercial, so I would say yes, they are free to use in those situations.

2 and 4 would then be a commercial situation

  • Nice.... out of curiosity, would the paid licence cover the 4th situation? Feb 23, 2011 at 12:32
  • I would argue that #2 could be considered a commercial application. If the website is making money (no matter how much, or whether for an individual or corporation) it could be considered to be commercial.
    – TZHX
    Feb 23, 2011 at 13:00
  • Woops..... totally agree I missed the ads part.... my bad!
    – ozz
    Feb 23, 2011 at 13:29
  • @Karpie - yes I believe it would, same for number 2 now as well.
    – ozz
    Feb 23, 2011 at 13:31

The license coming with your icon set is one of the CreativeCommons-family. As the link points out: Using in your own creative work is okay, as is sharing, but you may not use it in any commercial application. Much information about licenses can simply be found at Wikipedia's List of software licenses.

Edit: After the editing of the question - your problem with "commercial" is quite peculiar. For example, a company like Coca Cola sometimes hands out free drinks. That doesn't make it any less commercial. On the other hand, the people behind CyanogenMod have a "donation" button on their website - but their business is not really commercial. Another example: Twitter is commercial (but free), and membership of the OSF is non-commercial (but paid).

I think commercial is the best described as "with a purpose that's neither personal nor non-profit". A personal website (however it could have ads on it) is therefore most of the times not commercial (ads only covering your costs, but you didn't start your website to make money), but a business website (even when all of the features are free) is. Also, foundation's websites are (most of the times) non-commercial, so are governmental.

  • The next question, of course, is what a commercial application is. Is that defined anywhere on CC? Feb 23, 2011 at 16:35

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