how much right do I have on my project, if there are patches by others?

Ben Tilly btilly at
Fri Jul 6 15:25:09 UTC 2007

On 7/6/07, Arnoud Engelfriet <arnoud at> wrote:
> Ben Tilly wrote:
> > On 7/6/07, Arnoud Engelfriet <arnoud at> wrote:
> > >Having the full copyright allows you to change the license, or
> > >to license it to some under a different license. It also allows
> > >you to sue for infringement or violation of the license.
> >
> > Having a partial copyright is sufficient for filing lawsuits.
> > Otherwise you're right.
> I guess it depends on jurisdiction. In some, you need permission
> from all copyright holders. In others, any copyright holder can
> sue, but at the same time any other copyright holder can grant
> a license to the entire work, making such lawsuits a waste of money.

I am not a lawyer, but I've never heard of such a jurisdiction.  I'm
positive that the USA, Canada and Great Britain don't work that way,
and I'd be surprised if any country following British Common Law does.
 (Yes, I know that Quebec, Canada and Louisiana, USA do not follow
British Common Law.)

Can you name an example that does?

There is, however, a big negotiating benefit to having full copyright.
 See for a
description of how the FSF enforces the GPL.  You'll see that out of
court settlements are a key part of their strategy.  Now because the
FSF is the sole copyright holder, they can offer an out of court
settlement and guarantee that you won't be sued if you settle.  By
contrast if they were not the sole copyright holder, they couldn't
offer such guarantees, which would make those settlements much harder
to achieve.

> > >Having full copyright allows the FSF to move its GNU project
> > >to GPL version 3, for example.
> >
> > Bad example.  If you've followed the FSF recommendations for how to
> > apply the GPL (the ones that are written into the GPL), then no
> > permission is needed to go from GPL v2 to v3.
> Those recommendations are not part of the GPL, fortunately.

What do you mean by "part of the GPL"?  They are certainly part of the
document, if you tried to remove them then you'd be violating the
FSF's copyright on the GPL.  You are not, however, required to follow
those recommendations in applying the GPL.  (Mild irony.  The text of
the GPL is copyrighted, and its copyright is neither free nor open
source.  Yes, there is excellent reason for this, but I still am
amused by it.)

> Maybe I should have stated it differently: if every author
> retains his copyright, the full work cannot be relicensed
> unless every author gives permission. This is why it will
> be extremely difficult to move the Linux kernel to GPLv3
> (even assuming Linus Torvalds wants to).

This is true.  However I'll note that many software licenses (eg MIT)
give permission to relicense derivative works.  The GPL is, of course,
not among these.


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