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

Ben Tilly btilly at
Fri Jul 6 17:40:09 UTC 2007

On 7/6/07, Arnoud Engelfriet <arnoud at> wrote:
> Ben Tilly wrote:
> > On 7/6/07, Arnoud Engelfriet <arnoud at> wrote:
> > >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.
> It is my understanding of US copyright law that each co-owner of
> a work has an independent right to use or non-exclusively license
> the use of a work.

Um, coowners are a very different situation from the comingled
copyright issues that are normal in open source software.  Or at least
that is my non-lawyerly understanding.

> >From
> >
> There is also no need for a specific statutory provision concerning the
> rights and duties of the coowners of a work; court-made law on this point is
> left undisturbed. Under the bill, as under the present law, coowners of a
> copyright would be treated generally as tenants in common, with each coowner
> having an independent right to use or license the use of a work, subject to
> a duty of accounting to the other coowners for any profits.

>From the same source, opening paragraph:

: Under the definition of section 101, a work is "joint" if the
: authors collaborated with each other, or if each of the authors
: prepared his or her contribution with the knowledge and intention
: that it would be merged with the contributions of other authors
: as "inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole."

This is not how open source software is developed.  There authors do
not start with the knowledge or intention of what other authors will
later do with their work.  Therefore rather than winding up with a
situation where multiple people share ownership of the same copyright,
you have multiple people who each have copyright interest in the
derived work.

> In Germany all copyright holders need to consent to a license granted
> by any one copyright holder.

I know nothing of German law.

> > >Those recommendations are not part of the GPL, fortunately.
> >
> > What do you mean by "part of the GPL"?
> I mean they are not part of the license. True, they are on the
> same document, but they are not a license term.


> > 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.
> The GNU GPL (v3) is the text from "GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE" up to
> and including "END OF TERMS AND CONDITIONS" on the page
> [the same applies to GPLv2]
> Everything above and below (and to the side) of that is not
> part of the license document. I don't see how a text that is
> below a marker "END OF TERMS AND CONDITIONS" can be considered
> part of a license.

The first paragraph of the GPL v2 reads:

: Copyright (C) 1989, 1991 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
:  59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307  USA
: Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
: of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

The FSF recommendations for how to apply the GPL are part of this
copyrighted document.  If you distribute the terms and conditions of
the GPL but omit including their recommendations, you have violated
the copyright on the GPL document.

You do not, of course, have to follow their recommendations. :-)


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