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HomeUncategorizedDo open source licences cover the Ship of Theseus?

Do open source licences cover the Ship of Theseus?

I recently downloaded a single-page HTML template for a project I was working on. I wanted a good-looking scaffold to help me getting running quickly. The code had an attribution licence which I was happy to comply with.

I ended up removing about a whole bunch of the HTML that I didn’t need. That also allowed me to remove the majority of the CSS which was unused. I deleted all the JavaScript. I added some semantic markup and updated a few of the outdated coding conventions. Newer CSS was also added to support modern features. And I replaced all the default images and fonts with something I preferred.

In total, 75% of the HTML was rewritten and 61% of the CSS had changed.

Screenshot from GitLab showing 2 files with 167 additions and 562 deletions.

Is there enough of the original files left to warrant attribution according to the licence terms?

Let’s take it to an extreme. Suppose I really loved the background colour used by a piece of free software. If all I copied wasbody { background: #6082B6; } would that require attribution?

I think there’s a reasonable argument that de minimis non curat lex – the law cares not for small things. Is anyone seriously going to argue that I stole half a dozen bytes? Could they prove that I copied that single line from them? Would anyone care?

And yet, morally, I feel that I should give credit.

Much like the apocryphal sculptor, I have removed everything that wasn’t necessary. But I think the poor sod who lugged the block of marble deserves acknowledgment.

At what point do you say “this has changed so much that it is no longer necessary to abide by the original licence”?

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