I would like to publish an ebook in open-source format on for example GitHub, and I am stuck with what license should be used for this type of work.

It seems like many open-source licenses available are for software, while there are very few for works of other kinds.

I've found at least three licenses that seem to be applicable on ebooks (open source):

My question is if books need to have a license at all, or if it's enough to have a sentence stating "Copyright [year] [author]". What rights do I have when choosing "No license" approach and is there a better license that is suited for open-source ebooks?

  • Creative commons is a widely used (and as such widely understood) license with a range of "settings" for offering different rights. For open source it's a good way to go.
    – CLockeWork
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 11:54
  • 1
    "No license" provides no permissions to the user beyond what is implicit in the distribution medium and provided under copyright law (e.g. "fair use" considerations) and is not "open source" in spirit much less by the technical definition. Googling "documentation license" finds other licenses such as GNU's FDL and this article.
    – user5232
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 17:15
  • All the information here is plainly wrong or misguided. All licenses use copyright, which is the set of internationally-accepted laws for creative works. So copyright is not a license per se. And for something to be open-source you cannot restrict commercial usage, it is very clear on the open source definition (point 6): opensource.org/osd-annotated -- which leads to the other gross misinformation, Creative Commons is not a license, is a set of 6 very different licenses, including non-open-source licenses.
    – Patola
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 23:54
  • CC-BY-NC-ND (no commercial usage, no derivatives) is a horrible license contrary to all principles of open-source and certainly not matching the definition.
    – Patola
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 23:54

2 Answers 2


I think that you need to separate your thinking and focus on this from the perspective of a writer and not a software developer. Licenses as you have identified them here do not really apply to books or e-books the same way that they do to software. If you look at the following examples and then compare them to a Copyright, I think you'll see that all you really need is a Copyright notice.

Creative Commons A user may copy and distribute your work as long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. They cannot use your book for any commercial purpose. If they remix, transform, or build upon the material in your book, they cannot distribute the modified material.

Artistic License 2.0 Anyone is permitted to copy and distribute complete copies of your book, but changing it is not allowed.

No License You retain all rights and do not allow any distribution or reproduction of your book, and no derivative works can be generated from your book.

Copyright A user may copy and distribute portions of your work as long as they give appropriate credit and indicate if changes were made. They cannot use your book for any commercial purpose. You retain all rights and do not allow any distribution or reproduction of your book, and no derivative works can be generated from your book.

The most common thread among all of these is that nobody is allowed to make changes on your original work and then distribute it. If all you really want to do is give everyone free access to your work, then all you need to do is issue it with a Copyright notice.

  1. Always, always, always place a copyright notice: Copyright ©2017 Your Name.

Do that, even if you intend to give it away free.

Note that the actual copyright symbol is used, not (c). Also, if there is any doubt about who Your Name means, put sufficient contact info (keeping in mind that you don't want spam, which will largely consist of services offering to help you become a big-time writer, for a fee). At a minimum, unless you are trying to conceal your identity (unlikely) put your town or residence (Your Name, of Anytown, Anystate USA).

  1. You may write your own license, or none at all. What may someone do? What may they not do? Do you care if they make money from it? And so forth. If in doubt, I would look at the Creative commons licenses, since they are not nailed down to software as much as some others.

  2. Always, always, always place disclaimers. No warranty! This is fiction! (If it is fiction.)

  3. And now for something important: Does your work contain anything at all that does not originate from you? For example: Is it a PDF, with embedded fonts? What are the licenses for those fonts? You can't give a PDF away with "no restrictions" if it contains fonts that do have restrictions.

  4. You can always put: Copyright ©2017 Your Name. All Rights Reserved.

That means: No license! You haven't given away a thing. You can always change that, and add a license later. In the intervening time, many folks who want to read what you wrote will ignore whatever you put for the copyright.

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