I'm planing to release a LaTeX template to share my adjustments I've worked out for an universty course. My first thought was to release it under CreativeCommons (BY-NC-SA 3.0) but right now I'm not sure if this affects the content of the user he adds to the TeX file to compile his PDF file.

I don't want to force the user to license his content under CC, just the changes he applies to the template.

Does some kind of CC license fit my purpose or do I have to switch to another license?

  • The Creative Commons site is offline at the moment, but I believe there is a CC-Free licence which may do what you want. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 11:22
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    All of LaTeX itself and the majority of contributed packages are licenced under LPPL, it simplifies things for some users if you use the same (but you are under no obligation to use that licence, it's your work you can licence it however you wish) Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 11:24
  • @DavidCarlisle : As I'm sure you've observed, the OP's problem is how to distinguish between another party's separating the template (encumbered) from the data şe feeds into it (potentially unencumbered, or encumbered under a different licence). Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 12:00
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    @Brent.Longborough but my suggestion is that it's simpler for everyone to reduce the total number of licences involved in any given work, and that (for me at least) outweighs any minor (or major) differences between the licences. I have released stuff under LPPL, GPL CC of various sorts, WhatWG, MIT, Artistic, and probably some others. In all cases the intention is just to go with the flow of the surrounding work. You need some licence to give distributors a clear legal footing under which they may re-distribute but really adding more licences just complicates things for very little gain. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 12:08
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    @DavidCarlisle : Yes, of course. Maybe in this case, CC-Zero is the way to go. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 12:18

3 Answers 3


This is a very good question!

I would suggest using the GPL or LGPL.

In this case, I think you can safely position your templates as a work of Software and not Content. Both licenses are very specific in stating that any modification of the program source must be redistributed with the same license. They also make no restrictions on the use of software for producing output in any form. The LGPL is a bit more liberal in allowing distribution with bits of non-free software.

Where it gets ambiguous is the question of weather or not the compiled PDF, PS or DVI file is a "compiled binary" of the source TeX file. In this case, you may want to make it very clear in your README file that you make no restriction on the output produced with the templates and only wish to apply the license to modified versions of the TeX template files. Alternatively, you might want to rewrite one of these licenses to suit this particular problem as they contain specific language that relates to the technical conventions of compiled software.

CC licenses are generally for output content like texts (PDFs), images, audio and films. Although they are inspired by Free and Open Source models, they are not designed to deal with this particular question of source vs. output. GPL, BSD, MIT and other FLOSS licenses are more specific on these questions, so I would suggest avoiding CC in this case.

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    I see one potential problem with this approach: what you suggest putting into README might not be legally binding. I think that an actual suit is highly improbable in this case, but...
    – mbork
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 15:21
  • I don't know how it would change legal status but since you mention it, it might be more appropriate to make these stipulations in the COPYING file if using GPL. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 16:48

To answer that question, we would need a definiton of the word template which has quite a few meanings.

Fixed Output

Consider a given layout that has to be ensured, for some thesis requirements or a corporate design. Implementing everything in a package or class and providing this is certainly licensable. Many such packages and classes are on CTAN, many Journals have own classes with a special license.

If a template as a bundle comes with a class file, and an example tex-file; are all files bound to the same license? See next section for more.

Non-fixed Output

There is no own package involved, the template simply is a couple of commonly used packages. Which packages to use was chosen by the person originally putting together the template.

%the following is cc by-sa 3.0 with attribution required
I've been watchin birds more than insects recently, 
and the thing I've found with pigeons is: they've 
got wings but they walk a lot. (Karl Pilkington)

Some other text

Is that mere example topic of licensing? If so, is changing the document body immediately a derived work?

These are more questions than answers, feel free to read more about my Template Confusion.


I do not think that you can hold a license for a template, regardless of the country where you are. It is just a guess, but a template is not a software. If you disagree, ask your local lawyer or publish it without a license.

==== (EDIT) ====

As tohecz complains let me elaborate: Let's start with the pre-formated tables the MS-Office offers now: e.g. a table with a deep blue head and alternating light blue and white rows. This is a template for a tabular, but obviously you can't hold license for painting rows in a table in different colours.

From my point of view a template providing packages, including some customisation, as well is such a simple thing.

Maybe -- I don't think so -- there might be a difference, if the template included some lines of code, but only, if this code were not trivial. Even trivial code can not be put under a license. If you are interested in such matters, read groklaw.com, the everlasting saga of SCO vs rest of the world about the ownership of Linux.

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    Template in the LaTeX sense is a software: It is a compilation of other packages, bunch of own macro (re-)definitions etc.
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 14:06

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