Many open source software projects have licenses that allow freely copying source code and using it however you want. Some of these licenses do not even require attribution. Source code is just text so my question is is it legal to copy text from for example a README and include it in a paper without attribution, supposing I'd want to do that for some reason?

  • 2
    Why don't you want to include attribution? Attribution in this case makes it much easier to see where the text comes from, thus to judge any claims made either in it or related to it. If neither of those are relevant, then what purpose does the text serve in the paper in the first place?
    – user
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 14:47
  • To be honest I only asked this because I was curious. I enjoy asking the what if questions. In programming copying code with a permissive license not requiring attribution does happen. So I was wondering how this extended to writing.
    – costrouc
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 20:11

2 Answers 2


It is plagiarism to claim someone else's writing as your own in any context. Note that while plagiarism can be a legal term - that is, some forms of plagiarism are illegal - actions that are legal can still be considered plagiarism. For one example, many higher learning institutions have rules that forbid you from plagiarizing yourself by reusing parts or all of one work in multiple classes. (Google 'self plagiarism' for more details.)

The question of whether an act is plagiarism and whether an action is legally actionable are distinct questions. The question of whether or not including a README or other text from a licensed work could get you into legal trouble is unanswerable without details of the license, etc. But if you claim or appear to claim that you wrote it when you did not, it is plagiarism.


There is no single response. It really depends on the license of the project from which you want to quote the source. There is 83 OSI approved licenses and many unlisted in the wild that can match your needs. Each license has its own requirements, its "little lines to read carefully". Attribution may or may not be a requirement.

Can those licenses applied to some literature work? I think so. Some, like the GNU Free Documentation License was written specially to deal with... documentations, which are somewhat literature. Deeper, many agreed that source codes are words, so the licenses apply to those words.

So, if

Code is Poetry (WordPress)

let's be tautologic : if attribution is required, it is required.

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