Is it possible to sue infringers under the GPL?

Seth David Schoen schoen at
Wed Mar 8 21:34:08 UTC 2000

Justin Wells writes:

> A big problem with the GPL, and other OSS licenses, is that very few people
> have standing to press a complaint. If someone violate's a GPL license, 
> only the author of the software has the right to press the complaint (or
> so I think, and I am not a lawyer). 
> Worse, if there are multiple authors, you probably need a majority 
> of them present to press the complaint. How do you find out who the 
> authors of an OSS project are, and how on earth would you track down
> a majority of them?

I'm just curious why you need a majority.  In the absence of some agreement
between developers about the disposition of the copyright, isn't a GPLed
work normally copyrighted in part by each of its contributors?

> In my SPL, which I am *still* working on, I have this clause:
>   For the sole purpose of taking action against an infringer of our
>   copyrights, including actions seeking remedies, compensation, or the
>   recovery of damages, anyone engaged in the lawful distribution of our 
>   software shall be considered a beneficial owner of the rights to copy and 
>   distribute it, and therefore has the authority to pursue such actions.
> The goal here is to give someone like Red Hat the standing to press a 
> claim against a violator, even if the original author has vanished from
> the face of the earth. The copyright act (in the US) has some similar
> language granting television broadcasters "beneficial owner" status
> so they can go after pirates in their broadcast area, without having
> to track down the copyright owners.

Isn't that ownership granted by law?  If it weren't granted by law, could
you create such a thing simply by publishing that statement in a license?

Seth David Schoen <schoen at>  | And do not say, I will study when I
Temp.  | have leisure; for perhaps you will
down:   (CAF)  | not have leisure.  -- Pirke Avot 2:5

More information about the License-discuss mailing list