I adapted some code from a public GitHub repository for a paper, and I have to upload my code to make my work reproducible. I cite the work for which the repository was created in the paper and added comments with a link to the repository in my code wherever I adapted code from it.

The repository includes a readme that states: "If this code was useful, please cite...", but they seem to have forgotten to provide a license.

I assume that this means that it was illegal to even adapt and use the code. I contacted the authors to ask them to upload a license, but I need to upload my code tomorrow because of paper deadline.

What to do? I assume the risk is very low here because the intent of the authors is clearly to provide the code to the scientific community. They just forgot to add the MIT license. Is it common to just ignore such little legal issues in science?

  • As a developer, I would open an Issue on Github asking them to add license information. Sep 30 at 10:14
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    @BernhardDöbler scientist often don't maintain their code repositories they created for papers. Also this question was about a situation with time constraint. Opening an issues was the first thing I tried, but I did not expect a quick answer
    – PascalIv
    Oct 1 at 11:07

1 Answer 1


While I agree that the risk is small unless the copyright is held by a corporation, I don't agree that one should make assumptions about unstated author intent. Copyright reserves certain things to holders even when they don't state it. One of the reserved rights is the right to make adaptations and translations.

I can't guess how "common" such assumptions are. I'm pretty strict myself in affirming the rights of holders. If a right isn't granted, it is, in my view, wrong to assume you have it. I hope that is the general view.

There intent may not have been to allow adaptations. Don't just assume that it is.

You may be able to meet your paper deadline without uploading your code until you have an actual affirmative statement from the original authors. Papers take time to get published.

  • Thanks for your opinion, but I mean this would already imply that it was illegal to adapt it? Not only to upload it afterward. So my paper is built on illegal code? I think probably many of the 79 papers that cite the work adapted the code, too.
    – PascalIv
    Sep 28 at 14:27
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    Anyway they just added a license =)
    – PascalIv
    Sep 28 at 15:16

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