Understanding Blender License: Replicating User Interface Ideas and Commercial Use in Independent Game Engine

I am unsure about the appropriate category for this content; I perceive it as documentation regarding the Blender License. For instance, could someone provide an update on the Blender License? This question is significant to me, and I would appreciate clarification.

Could you provide links to the specific sections of the Blender license that grant permission for the replication of user interface ideas? Alternatively, should I design a completely different user interface?

Can I use Blender’s interface ideas in my game engine and sell it commercially, even though I have independently developed my game engine’s code from scratch without using Blender’s C++ code? I’m using Blender icons under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Does this license apply to copying the interface? I want to avoid sharing my code like with the GPL license because I aim to assume complete control over the entire project code, establishing ownership of the code forever. Is my game engine a derivative work of Blender if I’m not using any Blender code?

Google Bard gave me this answer when I asked the same question:

  • Not Using Blender’s Code: If you’re not incorporating Blender’s code, your game engine isn’t considered a derivative work under copyright law.
  • GPL: The GPL license wouldn’t apply unless you use GPL-licensed code.

However, Google Bard’s response vary; at times, it suggests that my project is a derivative work of Blender, even when I haven’t utilized Blender’s code. Conversely, there are instances where it asserts that my project is not a derivative work of Blender, as reflected in the previous answer, possibly due to the clarity of my question.

Disclaimer. I’m no expert in these matters, and I also don’t speak for the blender foundation, the following is just my personal understanding.

I think you are in the clear if you don’t use any blender code. The only thing is you can’t use the blender logo or name to market your engine (because of the trademark).

1 Like

That’s what I thought too for a considerable period, my belief aligned with ChatGPT/Google Bard answers in the past, that’s why my work in the screenshot. However, yesterday, Google Bard made a warning, leaving me uncertain.

Not speaking for the Blender Foundation here.

My understanding is that copyright and software licenses in general do apply to both the source code and user interface design. I don’t see what would exclude design, unless specifically stated.

I think the question is more, to what extent is user interface design copyrightable at all? It seems that in practice you can go quite far copying a design and still be ok.

The CC BY-SA 4.0 license only applies to the icons.

1 Like

The Blender license clearly stipulates that the Blender source code is protected (but free), with the overarching goal of ensuring perpetual software freedom. However, the license does not explicitly address the user interface license, leaving this aspect uncertain.

The GPL says that derivative work based on a GPL-licensed program must also be licensed under the GPL, ensuring that subsequent versions and modifications maintain the same level of openness and freedom. This requirement helps uphold the principles of free and open-source software.

Is my game engine considered a derivative work of Blender? According to Google Bard, extensive copying of ideas from Blender can classify my software as a derivative work.

As far as I know your specific wording does not appear in the GPL. On the other hand one of the first few lines in the GPL v3 is:

“The Program” refers to any copyrightable work licensed under this License.

I don’t see a good reason to believe that the user interface design is somehow separate from the source code regarding copyright and licensing.

What matters is that as you go from concrete implementation towards ideas, there is a point where something can not be copyrighted at all, regardless of which license someone may apply to it.

Practically speaking, I would expect this to fall on the side of not being copyrightable. But that’s my personal opinion.

1 Like

I apologize for the previous confusion. What I mentioned earlier was not part of the Blender license. I made an error by copying a license text into Google Bard and then asking a question.

Thank you. I share the same belief. Drawing inspiration from various software is beneficial. It aligns with the notion that general ideas cannot be copyrighted.

Google Bard’s answer:
I copied the text from blender-ui license into Google Bard, and I asked a question, then I received the following response:

Interface Ideas and Copyright:

  • Copyright law typically protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.
  • However, if you closely replicate Blender’s interface layout, icons, design elements, and overall “look > and feel” without significant changes, it could potentially be considered a derivative work, even if the code is different.
  • Determining whether your interface is sufficiently distinct to avoid copyright infringement would likely require legal expertise.

My decision:
Many individuals, including Google Bard, often avoid taking risks. This inclination has led me to minimize borrowing. My strategy involves creating a different UI, a glassy UI (glassmorphism) featuring glossiness along the edges and dynamic lighting wherever the mouse is positioned.

Many programs, both libre and proprietary, copy Adobe’s proprietary commercial closed source UI designs and principles pretty plainly and shamelessly and AFAIK none have gotten any trouble for it.

I’d use that as a guide to say UI design might not be very copyright-able, from an amateur guess.

I personally really like the blender UI

  • non overlapping.
  • easy and quick setting up of the workspace any way you like it.
  • dragging to select/deselect/toggle multiple things in a row (I miss this a lot in other apps)

And I would really like it if more apps would emulate it, or take the best ideas and evolve them.

Computer UI has always evolved for the better by emulation and standardisation and the attempts by various big software companies to patent/copyright ‘look and feel’ of their apps has had a stifling effect on innovation, even if they didn’t really get anywhere with it.

I would love it if blender would put in their licensing the explicit permission to use/copy the interface ideas and I think it would benefit blender if other creative apps would start copying interface ideas from blender.

OTOH I can understand blender doesn’t want to spend the resources to do this in a legally sane/safe way as patent /copyright in software is a minefield which can suck up a lot of time & money.

1 Like

Those ideas are certainly not covered by copyright, and they’re unlikely to even be original to Blender. I don’t think an exception is needed for that.

1 Like

Google Bard is not a reliable source for legal advice. It will literally invent case citations out of thin air.

Isn’t this somewhat contradictory to what you wrote before: (?)

I was just lifting a few of my favourite ideas from the blender UI, but imo (not that it matters what I think, of course :stuck_out_tongue: ) it would be good to give other apps permission to completely copy the UI style of blender. Because as said I think it is a nice UI and blender would benefit if more apps would use the same style/paradigms.

This is of course completely different from using the actual implementation blender uses. As soon as you use any of that your app should be GPL, plain and simple.

I don’t think so.

My point was that the GPL covers the program as a whole, to the extent that it is copyrightable. There are implementation ideas you can find by reading the source code that are not copyrightable. If a few sufficiently original and long paragraphs of text appear in the user interface then those may be copyrightable.

The implication from the original post and your reply seemed to be that:

  • There may be some separate license for the source code and user interface design, or at least something in the license text that makes a distinction between them.
  • If you look at the source code you have a problem, if you look at just the user interface that means you are fine.

What I wanted to do is clarify that it’s not exactly like that (even if it may not be very far off in practice).

Of course. And of course the GPL applies to all parts of the program.

It’s just that there is some uncertainty (in general, not blender specific) about the copyrightability of ‘look & feel’. Of course you don’t really need a separate license or explicit wording in the existing one. I just personally think it would be nice if BF would make it clear they would not sue people over ‘look & feel’ , to take away some of that uncertainty. Because I personally would love to see blenders interface ideas be taken up by other programs and also think blender would benefit from that in the long run. The person who started this discussion decided to make his UI different from blender’s because of this uncertainty, which I think is a shame.

But all of this is of course just personal preference and of no consequence whatsoever :smiley: