Is it possible to sue infringers under the GPL?

David Starner dvdeug at
Fri Mar 10 04:40:29 UTC 2000

On Thu, Mar 09, 2000 at 07:54:12PM -0800, David Johnson wrote:
> On Thu, 09 Mar 2000, John Cowan wrote:
> > Not at all.  Copyright subsists solely with the creator, unless 1) the work
> > is made for hire, or 2) the creator has made an exclusive transfer of
> > copyright.  The latter *must* be in writing.  The FSF insists on such
> > copyright transfer for all GNU-official stuff.
> If someone sends me a patch with no notice of copyright in the patch, but an
> attached email that says "here's a fix for your code", who does it belong to? I
> assume that I can use it in my own code as if it were mine, no questions asked.

Usually, if it's just a small fix to the code, I believe it would be legally
irrelevant. If it was a larger patch*, I would say it was safe to assume that 
the sender intended for you to use it in the code under the current license i.e.
if it's under the GPL, you can't later take it proprietary and use that patch
in your proprietary version.

Note that the NPL and similar licenses specifically give a one group (Netscape) 
the right to use any patch in their proprietary product. Also note Kaffe,
which has a proprietary line that specifically doesn't use any patches to
the GPL version unless they have permission of the author. I believe both
of those are based on legal requirements as opposed to just politeness.

* The FSF sometimes uses 10 lines of code. That's probably about the right
order of magnitude, though I'm sure a judge would rule based on originality,
uniqueness, complexity and what he had for breakfast that day.

David Starner - dstarner98 at
Only a nerd would worry about wrong parentheses with
square brackets. But that's what mathematicians are.
   -- Dr. Burchard, math professor at OSU

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