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github updates its TOS, and they are not trying to cheat

Every single time a big Silicon Valley company updates their Terms of Service, there is somebody who mis-interprets the change as an attempt to landgrab, or take ownership of the things being uploaded to the service.

This time it’s github.

Their new TOS has a section on User-Generated Content, which in github’s case is all the repositories, snippets and other stuff they are hosting.

In order to do the stuff they are doing on their users behalf, they need a lot of legal permissions on the stuff you are sending to them. That might seem scary, but please stop here and actually read that section linked up there. It’s one of the most clear, non-legalese TOS I have ever seen and it even explains WHY they need these rights and what they are going to use them for.

So D.4 says “You grant us and our legal successors the right to store and display your Content and make incidental copies as necessary to render the Website and provide the Service”.

Why is this?

That means you’re giving us the right to do things like reproduce your content (so we can do things like copy it to our database and make backups); display it (so we can do things like show it to you and other users); modify it (so our server can do things like parse it into a search index); distribute it (so we can do things like share it with other users); and perform it (in case your content is something like music or video).

So they ask for the necessary license to operate, and that license is non-exclusive (good), time-unlimited (necessary) and limited (for the purposes as stated (“as necessary to render the Website and provide the Service.” Website and Service are upcase, which means they are defined more clearly further up in document, limiting the license even more).

D.5 says “License Grant to Other Users”, and again the TOS states clearly when (“by setting your repositories to be viewed publicly”) and what and WHY again (github is about forking, that requires a license to do that from you). And again, it’s limited: If you set your repo to public, “you grant each User (upcase!) of GitHub a […] license to […]”. Again, it’s limited – the license is nonexclusive, and for a purpose (“to [… list of things …]”).

This is about as clear, non-threatening, transparent and obvious any legal contract you are going to see in your life can ever get.

So, D.7 is about moral rights (that’s a term for authorship attribution rights that are part of euro-copyright as opposed to us-copyright). And it says “you waive these rights and agree not to assert them against us”, which means, you still have these rights, but you can’t sue github for doing what github is about. And you again grant a license, limited, for a purpose (“render the Website and provide the Service”).

TL;DR: GitHub is a nice company. The TOS change is fine. Calm down, and STFU until you understand basic copyright law and contractual language. Thanks.

Published inComputer ScienceGoing Digital and the Copyright


  1. I agree, this is needed from GitHub standpoint and it never actually worked for uploading and forking code you don’t own, especially if it has strange licenses (but just nobody cares)

  2. towo

    I thought the main FUD was that some of the new bits don’t allow for some of the radical licenses? Copyleft, libre, those buzzwords.

    • kris kris

      More like radical interpretations of said licenses. All of the “this is scary” interpretations of the Github TOS fail to take the limitations into account that Github puts on their language (“for the purpose of …”)

      • Ken

        I think this matches the spirit of many copyleft licences (but please do not ask RMS), but not the wording, which is what can be enforced in court.
        Let’s assume you wrote some piece of gpl software, me licences it, adds some commits and host it on github (while you’re hosting on your website).
        Then i grant github a licence with some freedoms, the gpl explicitely forbids. Github possibly doesn’t have any problem, when they assume in good faith, that i may sublicence the code (but they should know better, they even automatically recognize licences as gpl and display it on the projects page).
        But i did not have the rights for this sublicence and violated your rights, when github i.e. displays your code in snippets on the search page without displaying the author or licence.
        If we follow the contracts, github may display the code, the users may get it from github and you need to sue me for the infringement. Good for github, bad for it’s users, ugly for authors which avoid github because of this, but get their code wrongly licenced onto github.
        And don’t be fooled by the explanations. The words “we may reproduce” hold in court, while the examples afterwards (i.e. storing it in a db, making backups) are just examples, which are included in the rights granted, but not the exclusive rights i am granting.
        This said, i guess nobody will ever sue and github will not be that dumb to abuse the rights. But i can understand, when people insist on their legal rights.

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