Can I call my program "Open Source" even if I don't use an approved license?


Without the right license, it's not really open source so we would ask you to not do that. If you call it "Open Source" without using an approved license, you will confuse people.

This is not merely a theoretical concern — we have seen this confusion happen in the past, and it's part of the reason why there is a formal license approval process. See also the OSI page on license proliferation for why this is a problem. An effective open source license is one which allows for broad use, modification, and sharing of the code, without onerous restrictions.

Ambiguous or vague licenses that don't explicitly grant the rights protected by copyright are problematic because they're open to interpretation. Additionally, if you're not absolutely certain you can comply with the obligations of a software license, you probably shouldn't use the software. If there is ever a legal challenge, you don't want to have to worry about the outcome.

The most popular licences are the MIT, GPL, and Apache. The best way to avoid wondering if a particular license is safe to use is to choose one of these generally accepted licenses. They've undergone rigorous review by the open source legal community.