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

Arnoud Engelfriet arnoud at
Fri Jul 6 18:07:00 UTC 2007

Ben Tilly wrote:
> On 7/6/07, Arnoud Engelfriet <arnoud at> wrote:
> >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.

Good point. It's more like everyone is developing derivative works
based on everyone else's derivative works. Co-owning would be when
we mail code back and forth until we're satisfied. Derivative works
is when I write a patch to your code. Then I own the derivative
and you own the original.

> 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.

It's my understanding that if someone distributes my derivative work
without my permission, I have standing to sue by myself. If the third
party does not distribute my original contribution (my patch), but
only your original, I have no standing because my copyright only
subsists in my additions.

So I *think* any contributor can sue over infringement over his
'contributor version', independently of any other contributor.
I guess I'll have to read Rosen again.

> 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.

I guess we're reading "this license document" differently. You say
it refers to the entire text of the HTML or text document on the FSF
website. I say it refers only to the text between "GNU GENERAL
that text is part of the license.

I don't think this is covered in the FAQ.


Arnoud Engelfriet, Dutch & European patent attorney - Speaking only for myself
Patents, copyright and IPR explained for techies:
              Arnoud blogt nu ook:

More information about the License-discuss mailing list