REUSE Specification – Version 3.2 (UNRELEASED)


This specification defines a standardised method for declaring copyright and licensing for software projects. The goal of the specification is to have comprehensive, unambiguous, human- and machine-readable copyright and licensing information for each individual file in a project. Ideally this information is embedded into every file, so that the information is preserved when the file is copied and reused by third parties.

This specification implements IETF RFC 2119: Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels.

For the revision history of this specification, please see the change log.


These are the definitions for some of the terms used in this specification:

  • REUSE Tool — helper tool for compliance with this specification; available at
  • Project — any unit of content that can be associated with a distribution of software. Typically, a Project is composed of one or more files. Also sometimes called a package.
  • License File — a file containing the text of a license.
  • Licensing Information — the information that lists the copyright holders of a file or work, and describes under which licenses the file or work is made available.
  • Copyright Notice — a line of text that conveys copyright of a copyright holder. Its format is defined in the Format of Copyright Notices section.
  • Covered File — any file in a Project, except for
    • The License Files stored in the LICENSES/ directory.
    • COPYING and LICENSE, with or without file extensions.
    • The files belonging to the Project’s version control system (example: .git/).
    • The files ignored by the version control system (example: files listed in .gitignore).
    • Submodules of the Project’s version control system and Meson subprojects. Each submodule and Meson subproject is understood as a separate Project.
    • The files in the .reuse/ directory in the root of the Project. This directory MUST contain only files relevant for the operation of the REUSE Tool.
    • Symlinks and files with no data (zero-byte).
    • SPDX documents in their various formats as defined in the SPDX Specification, Clause 4.4 (example: sbom.spdx.json).
  • Commentable File — a plain text file that can contain comments.
  • Snippet — a portion of text in a Commentable File to which different Licensing Information applies.
  • Uncommentable File — either a plain text file that cannot contain comments or a file that is not a plain text file.
  • SPDX Specification — SPDX specification, version 2.3; as available at
  • SPDX License Identifier — SPDX short-form identifier, as defined in SPDX Specification. See also for a short introduction and examples.
  • SPDX License Expression — as defined in SPDX Specification, Annex D, at
  • SPDX License List — a list of commonly found licenses and exceptions; as available on
  • DEP5 — Machine-readable debian/copyright file, Version 1.0; as available at Where the REUSE Specification and DEP5 state different things, the REUSE Specification takes precedence. Specifically in the case of the Copyright and License tags.
  • TOML — A configuration file format as available at

License Files

A Project MUST include a License File for every license under which Covered Files are licensed.

Each License File MUST be placed in the LICENSES/ directory in the root of the Project. The name of the License File MUST be the SPDX License Identifier of the license followed by an appropriate file extension (example: LICENSES/GPL-3.0-or-later.txt). The License File MUST be in plain text format.

If a license does not exist in the SPDX License List, its SPDX License Identifier MUST be LicenseRef-[idstring] as defined by the SPDX Specification, Clause 10 available at

A Project MUST NOT include License Files for licenses under which none of the files in the Project are licensed. The LICENSES/ directory MUST NOT include any other files.

Everything that applies to licenses in this section also applies to license exceptions, with the exception that it is NOT possible to have a license exception that does not exist in the SPDX License List.

For avoidance of doubt, in practice this means that for every license and exception that is part of any SPDX License Expression in any Licensing Information associated with any Covered File, there MUST exist a License File as defined in this section.

You MAY include a COPYING or LICENSE file (with or without file extensions) in your project for compliance with other standards, conventions, or tools. These files MAY contain a copy of the license text, a summary of your licensing, or anything else. These files are ignored by the REUSE Tool.

Licensing Information

Each Covered File MUST have Licensing Information associated with it. You can associate Licensing Information with a file in the following ways:

  • Comment headers
  • REUSE.toml
  • DEP5 (deprecated)

REUSE.toml and DEP5 are mutually exclusive. You MUST NOT use both simultaneously.

Additionally, you can associate Licensing Information with Snippets inside of files.

Comment headers

Wherever possible, you SHOULD attempt to use comment headers to convey a file’s Licensing Information. Compared to other methods, comment headers are more explicit and their associated Licensing Information is more resistant to being moved or copied.

To implement this method, a Commentable File MUST declare the file’s Licensing Information in a comment header. The Licensing Information SHOULD be as close to the top of the top of the file as possible in a comment header. The Commentable File SHOULD use UTF-8 encoding.

For Uncommentable Files, the comment header that declares the file’s Licensing Information MUST be in an adjacent text file of the same name with the additional extension .license (example: cat.jpg.license if the original file is cat.jpg). The adjacent file SHOULD use UTF-8 encoding.

.license files MAY be used with Commentable Files, but it is still RECOMMENDED that comment headers be put inside Commentable Files.

The comment header MUST contain one or more Copyright Notices and one or more SPDX-License-Identifier tag-value pairs. A tag is followed by a colon, followed by a text value, and terminated by a newline.

The SPDX-License-Identifier tag MUST be followed by a valid SPDX License Expression describing the licensing of the file (example: SPDX-License-Identifier: GPL-3.0-or-later OR Apache-2.0).

An example of a comment header:

# SPDX-FileCopyrightText: 2016, 2018-2019 Jane Doe <>
# SPDX-FileCopyrightText: 2019 Example Organisation
# SPDX-License-Identifier: GPL-3.0-or-later

In-line Snippet comments

Sometimes Licensing Information only applies to a certain Snippet instead of the whole Commentable File. For these cases SPDX snippet tags MUST be used for that Snippet (as defined in SPDX Specification, Annex H). This means that Copyright Notices inside of Snippets MUST be prefixed with SPDX-SnippetCopyrightText.

Like with comment headers, the SPDX snippet tags SHOULD be commented.

A Snippet SHOULD contain both a Copyright Notice and an SPDX License Expression.


# SPDX-SnippetBegin
# SPDX-SnippetCopyrightText: 2022 Jane Doe <>
# SPDX-License-Identifier: MIT

print("Hello, world!")

# SPDX-SnippetEnd

Ignore block

If Licensing Information is declared in a file without describing the file’s or Snippet’s actual license or copyright (for example: as part of an output command or documentation), these occurrences SHOULD be put between two comments: REUSE-IgnoreStart and REUSE-IgnoreEnd. The REUSE Tool then ignores all Licensing Information between these comments. This technique MUST NOT be used to ignore valid Licensing Information.

An example for an ignored block:

# SPDX-FileCopyrightText: 2021 Jane Doe
# SPDX-License-Identifier: GPL-3.0-or-later

# REUSE-IgnoreStart
echo "SPDX-FileCopyrightText: $(date +'%Y') John Doe" > file.txt
echo "SPDX-License-Identifier: MIT" > file.txt
# REUSE-IgnoreEnd


Licensing Information MAY be associated with a file through a REUSE.toml file, which MUST be a valid TOML file. The intended use case of this method is large directories where including a comment header in each file (or in .license companion files) is impossible or undesirable.

A REUSE.toml file MAY be located in any directory, and can cover files that are within its directory or deeper. You MAY have multiple REUSE.toml files in different directories.

The version key (REQUIRED) MUST have an integer value representing the schema version of the file. This specification describes version 1 of REUSE.toml.

Each [[annotations]] table represents an association of Licensing Information to zero or more Covered Files. It has the following keys:

  • path (REQUIRED), a string or list of strings representing paths. A path MUST use forward slashes as path separators. A path SHOULD resolve to one or more Covered Files relative to the REUSE.toml file’s directory. A path that resolves to a non-existent or non-Covered File is ignored. A path MUST point to a location in the REUSE.toml file’s directory or deeper. A path MAY use globbing to match several Covered Files in a single expression. These are the globbing and matching rules:
    • * matches everything except forward slashes (i.e. path separators).
    • ** and **/ match everything including forward slashes (i.e. path separators).
    • In order to escape an asterisk and include it verbatim, prefix it with \\. You cannot prefix it with \ because that is invalid TOML. In order to include a backslash verbatim, use \\\\. \\ followed by any other character is functionally equal to just typing that character.
  • precedence (OPTIONAL), a literal string. It determines the order of precedence for Licensing Information between the REUSE.toml file and Covered Files in the table, and between multiple REUSE.toml files if they both contain Licensing Information for the same Covered File. Available values are:
    • closest, the default value when precedence is not defined. This is an instruction to associate the Licensing Information inside of the Covered Files (or its adjacent .license file), if available. If no such Licensing Information is found, then the Licensing Information inside the table of the closest REUSE.toml that covers the File is associated. This algorithm is applied separately for copyright and for licensing. If a table for the same File in a closer REUSE.toml file has the override precedence, then that precedence is applied, and closest is ignored. This is effectively a fallback.
    • aggregate. This is an instruction to always associate the Licensing Information defined in the table with the table’s Covered Files. Subsequently, the closest logic is also applied.
    • override. This is an instruction to associate the Licensing Information defined in the table with the table’s Covered Files, and to ignore any other Licensing Information that is closer to the Files. The table in the REUSE.toml that is the closest to the root of the Project is authoritative.
  • SPDX-FileCopyrightText (OPTIONAL), a string or list of strings. Each string MUST be a Copyright Notice to be associated with the table’s Covered Files. The prefix of the Copyright Notice MAY be omitted.
  • SPDX-License-Identifier (OPTIONAL), a string or list of strings. Each string MUST be a valid SPDX License Expression describing the licensing of the table’s Covered Files.

You MAY include other keys and tables to convey additional information. Their semantics are not defined by this specification.

Although the keys to associate Licensing Information with the Covered File are OPTIONAL, the complete Licensing Information MUST still be associated with the File in some fashion.

If a Covered File is covered by multiple [[annotations]] tables in the same REUSE.toml file, then exclusively the last matching table in the file is used for that Covered File.

An example of a REUSE.toml file:

version = 1

path = ["po/*.po", "po/*.pot"]
precedence = "aggregate"
SPDX-FileCopyrightText = "2019 Translation Company"
SPDX-License-Identifier = "GPL-3.0-or-later"

DEP5 (deprecated)

Licensing Information MAY be associated with a file through a DEP5 file, but you SHOULD create a REUSE.toml file instead. The DEP5 file is deprecated, meaning that it is expected to disappear from a future iteration of this specification.

The DEP5 file MUST be named dep5 and stored in the .reuse/ directory in the root of the Project (i.e. .reuse/dep5).

The License tag MUST be followed by a valid SPDX License Expression describing the licensing of the associated files.

The Copyright tag MUST be followed by a Copyright Notice. The prefix of the Copyright Notice MAY be omitted.

An example of a DEP5 file:

Upstream-Name: Project
Upstream-Contact: Jane Doe <>

Files: po/*.po po/*.pot
Copyright: 2019 Translation Company
License: GPL-3.0-or-later

Order of precedence

If a Commentable File contains Licensing Information but also has an adjacent .license file, then the Licensing Information defined in the .license file takes precedence, and the Commentable File’s contents are ignored. For all intents and purposes, this counts as the .license file’s Licensing Information being inside the Commentable File.

Licensing Information defined in .reuse/dep5 is aggregated with the Licensing Information found in the Covered Files. For clarity, this means that if the SPDX License Expressions in a file’s comment header and in the section for that file in .reuse/dep5 do not agree with each other, then both SPDX License Expressions will apply to the file.

The order of precedence for REUSE.toml files is described in the respective section, and is managed using the precedence key.

A Copyright Notice MUST start with a tag, word or symbol (collectively: prefixes) from the following list:

  • SPDX-FileCopyrightText (or SPDX-SnippetCopyrightText in Snippets)
  • Copyright
  • ©

It is RECOMMENDED to use the SPDX-FileCopyrightText tag. You MAY add ‘(C)’, ‘(c)’ or ‘©’ after the prefix.

In Commentable Files, a Copyright Notice is terminated by a newline.

The Copyright Notice MUST contain the name of the copyright holder. The copyright notice SHOULD contain the year of publication and the contact address of the copyright holder. The order of these items SHOULD be: year, name, contact address.

The year of publication MAY be a single year, multiple years, or a span of years.

The copyright holder SHOULD be an individual, list of individuals, group, legal entity, or any other descriptor by which one can easily identify the copyright holder(s).

Any contact address SHOULD be in between angle brackets.

You MAY add any further information to the Copyright Notice.

Examples of valid Copyright Notices:

SPDX-FileCopyrightText: 2019 Jane Doe <>
SPDX-FileCopyrightText: © 2019 John Doe <>
SPDX-FileCopyrightText: Contributors to Example Project <>
SPDX-FileCopyrightText: 2023 Alice Hack and (other) contributors to Project X <>
SPDX-SnippetCopyrightText: (C) Example Cooperative <>
© Example Corporation <>
Copyright 2016, 2018-2019 Joe Anybody
Copyright (c) Alice, some rights reserved