If you were to design the identity of a software project that is released as Free Open Source Software (FOSS), let's say under the GPL licence, including the identity, graphics, logo, etc., can it be distributed under a different licence and specific set of rights granted to the project?

What would be the preferred licence for a logo, from the project's perspective?

The goal would be to have identity graphics which were created for one project in particular remain with the project and not be hijacked by a commercial fork.

Main reason for using a Creative Commons licence for the logo I see is:

  • Simplicity - it's free, derivations, modifications, no permission need to be asked nor given. It can be distributed together with the GPL code without worry.

Main reason against using a Creative Commons / GPL licence for the logo I assume is:

  • Keep branding exclusive to the project it was created for, either through disallowing forks or derivative commercial products to use the same branding. A commercial project with money thrown at it and spent on PR for example could generate enough publicity to channel potential users (and contributors) away from the original open source project (which could lead to its stagnation and end). Having access to the same branding (because it was released under CC) could cause confusion and would it make it impossible to retain the identity exclusive to the project it was designed for?

The commercial fork hijack is just a scenario I came up, would there be more serious ones worthy of consideration?

Also, I understand CC-NC-ND would prevent the commercial fork hijack scenario but would that be a licence you'd consider for a logo, does it have any other noteworthy drawbacks? Or is it easier to use a standard licence such as a very comprehensive bullet point list of rights given.

I've checked similar topics, they seem to deal with specific cases on how to mix and match software and assets with differences licences, this question assumes there is a free choice of any licence. What would you choose for the logo design and why?

Why this question even came up: some in the community believe the logo must be released under the same license as the software, others do not. There is no consensus.

1 Answer 1


You don't typically license a logo at all--as a logo is meant to represent a single entity.

However, within the license of the software itself, you may want to add clauses about how the logo can be used (or not used) by others.

  • Good point I used "license" too loosely, I meant how should initial set of copyright be granted / transferred to the project, in what legal form / mechanism. At the very least usage rights have to be granted somehow, they could be implied by a business contract (where there's money exchange) but since it's an open source project. Does this help or am I (and the team) looking at it the wrong way?
    – Multicon
    Jan 20, 2016 at 1:22
  • @Multicon Yes, you'd typically handle that via a contract. Money doesn't need to exchange hand. You're essentially just signing the usage rights over to the project with any conditions agreed upon by both parties. Now, it does raise another question: who on an OS project can 'sign' such an agreement?
    – DA01
    Jan 20, 2016 at 1:44
  • Consensus in the team seems to be that it must be GPL or Creative Commons, the most open version to be able to be distributed with the software. That has turned out to be incorrect but the worry is that it's just too complicated if it isn't released as CC. Since logos seem to be covered by trademark law and not copyright law, is this even an issue, is a logo released under CC-BY enforceable in any way? Does anyone have experience with FOSS and identity design (it seems an extremely rare thing)
    – Multicon
    Jan 25, 2016 at 14:12
  • @Multicon I can't side with consensus, I guess. Mainly because the logo isn't a part of the project. It represents the project. A logo isn't much of a logo if anyone can modify it.
    – DA01
    Jan 25, 2016 at 16:55
  • Great clarity in your last comment, logo not being a part of the project is an important distinction to make. Thanks.
    – Multicon
    Jan 27, 2016 at 9:46

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