Noun Project - a case of "Open Jacking"?

Over the years I’ve been wondering about the direction of the Noun Project, see this issue:

Having recently revisited the site I feel things have not improved. I wondered what others thought about this situation. Here’s my comment in that issue thread:

/cc @jwyg

Concerns re Noun Project

Generally, I’d like to understand how the noun project went from something explicitly oriented to sharing “open” icons to a walled garden: the terms of use now explicitly remove most of the freedoms in the underlying open licenses and implicit in an open project e.g. the right to redistribute (and the ability to bulk access, to access without permission) etc.

Restrictive click-use terms for accessing open icons including public domain ones

I have to register (and agree to terms of use) to download any icon including open ones and even those in the public domain. E.g. visit

Clicking on “Get this icon” leads to …

Terms of Use Remove Freedoms

You may use the Service only if you can form a binding contract with The Noun Project, and only in compliance with these Terms of Use and all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations. The Service is not available to any Users previously removed from the Service by The Noun Project. You may be required to register with us in order to access and use certain features of the Service.

Without limiting the foregoing, in connection with your use of the Service you will not engage in or use any data mining, robots, scraping or similar data gathering or extraction methods. Any use of the Service or the Content other than as specifically authorized herein is strictly prohibited.

API is even more restrictive


The Noun Project API is designed to empower developers with a visual language. Using the Noun Project API inappropriately will result in the review and removal of your API keys.

This includes but is not limited to:

  • Distributing icons.
  • Reselling content.
  • Exploiting The Noun Project users or content. [what does this even mean?]
  • Replicating The Noun Project.

How is doing any of those things getting in the way of empowering developers with a visual language? Furthermore, each of those things is permitted in most cases by the licenses the original creators attached to their work when uploading to the noun project.


Overall this seems, a case of “open-jacking” where a project is booted on an open premise, soliciting user generated content and then is gradually “closed”.


It’s not clear to me why they use rather than CC-0 (possibly to acknowledge that many of their icons are not eligible for copyright). Is there a way to list the new contributions to the project, to see whether they are also in the public domain?

I’ve never used their website, but the collection on Wikimedia Commons is very useful:

From their Terms of Use, it does not look like that they have a blanket licence for all of the icons in the project, but rather each individual icon can use a different licence. From this excerpt, Creative Commons Attribution (without specifying a version) is one of such licences:

You may use Icons pursuant to the license and restrictions selected by the user that uploaded the Icon to the Service. If an Icon is provided pursuant to the Creative Commons Attribution License, you may pay a License Fee as set forth in the Services in order to use such Icon without the attribution requirement, but in accordance with all other terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Augusto Herrmann via Open Knowledge Forums, 13/03/20 15:09:

but rather each individual icon can use a different licence. From this
excerpt, Creative Commons Attribution (without specifying a version) is
one of such licences:

Indeed. I’ve seen new uploads to Wikimedia Commons which carry a
CC-BY-3.0 license. I don’t know if these were old icons or new
(Wikimedia Commons users fetch and upload them on an as-needed basis),
but if the new icons keep being under a clearly free license/copyright
statement then I’m less worried.

I would hope that the restrictions on the website are just a way to
avoid server overload or other forms of abuse, but I wish we knew for
sure. I don’t see why Rufus’ questions were not answered. As long as
there are no answers, it may be prudent to set up a mirror of all the
icons somewhere, for instance on an Internet Archive item. There are
some collections which were just dumped on an IA item and with a simple
add-on of HTML and JavaScript you can offer an easy (albeit slow)
interface to search and use the dump.