I am writing my Master Thesis. I used code from GitHub for my application and did modifications and extended its functionality to adjust my requirements. I am also citing the code in my own code and text.

My question is that the Github repository doesn't mention any license, which means that the copyright law applies by default. However, i know the author and have their explicit permission to use the code.

What are my options here?. Should i ask the author to upload the license or is it not necessary since i have their permission?.

  • 1
    You say "I know the author and have their explicit permission to use the code". (1) do you have this in writing? (2) what are the exact words? A proper license could forbid making or distributing derivatives (such as you did here by "extending the functionality"), require a specific citation format, etc. - "yeah whatever" would be shaky legal grounds to publish your modified code.
    – UJM
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 7:17
  • 1
    Crosspost on Open Source: opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/10313/…
    – jwodder
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


There are both legal and academic aspects to this. The the single most operative question here being "permission to do what?":

  • If your thesis quotes significant portions of the original code then you need permission to reproduce it (very small portions are likely to be covered by whatever fair use/fair dealing defence the relevant jurisdictions allow).
  • If you are distributing the code online (e.g. by creating a public GitHub fork with your modifications in it) then you also need permission to distribute it.
  • If you are expecting your changes to be used and modified by others (which is generally thought of as a good thing for both knowledge and reproducible code), then you probably want to release it to them under a specific licence yourself, for which you will again want the permission of the original author.

All together, if you are literally only citing the code (e.g. "Plots were created with a modified version of Library X [https://github.com/foo/libraryX] under special licence from the author." ), then you don't need to do anything more. If you want your work to be useful to others in the future, then you should encourage the author to pick a licence and update their repository, then do the same with your version.

  • The author have allowed me to use it in whatever way possible. And i am using quite significant amount of it. It is a UI design which i have modified and put functionality in it to make it a working application. My concern for now its usage in thesis. i have no plan for redistribution. If i will decide to do it in future, i will take proper measures. So this is for thesis use only
    – Jonny_G
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 2:58
  • I am only asking from academic aspect to avoid plagiarism
    – Jonny_G
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 3:18
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    @Jonny_G Plagiarism has nothing to do with licensing. No-one can give you their work and make it your work. You always need to identify their portion as theirs.
    – origimbo
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 3:19
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    @Jonny_G That really depends what you've written. With a proper citation it could be absolutely fine. With an acknowledgement in passing that doesn't clearly identify the ideas that aren't yours, it could still be a problem. Assuming you have an advisor at your institution supervising you, that is the kind of question you should ask them.
    – origimbo
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 3:37
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    @Jonny_G It's pretty much orthogonal to the plagiarism question. Adding a licence won't turn a plagiaristic usage into a non-infringing one, removing a licence won't turn a proper citation into plagiarism. Software licences deal with copyright. Plagiarism is much more about the moral attribution of authorship, and in academic writing you can't reassign that.
    – origimbo
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 3:59

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