I am writing a Julia package based on a research paper (implementing an electrodynamics algorithm). At some point I realized that the authors had implemented their algorithm in Python with a GPL 3 license. (Their code is a combination of the works of authors before them who do not have published code.) I would like to distribute my project under the MIT license, the default for Julia. Even if referencing the paper (and not the code), must my project be distributed under GPL 3? Can I reach out to the authors to gain permission to use an MIT license? Or at least, what is recommended in this case so that my project can use a more free license?
If you haven’t looked at or otherwise made use of their code, their license should not matter to your code.
Yup exactly. Or put another way: licensing is about copyright. Copyright protects the code, not the idea. If you haven’t even read the code, you’re not subject to its copyright.
There are some gray areas because the law is complicated: Copyright issues for code excerpts - #5 by stevengj
The “don’t even look at the code” take is very paranoid and probably only justified when the copyright holder is a litigious company so that you have a watertight defense in case you end up in court. It’s certainly not a legal requirement. As long as what you write isn’t derived from their code then you can put whatever license you want on it. If you haven’t even looked at their code then you definitely haven’t derived your code from theirs but you can look at their code and then write an unrelated implementation.
Thank you all for your advice; I want to mark them all as solutions. I will tread carefully (understanding that there are gray areas) while writing my code.