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

Ben Tilly btilly at
Fri Jul 6 20:14:43 UTC 2007

On 7/6/07, John Cowan <cowan at> wrote:
> Ben Tilly scripsit:
> > : 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.
> It is, however, how patches are accepted and processed: patch authors,
> if the patch is substantial and is accepted into the original work,
> do meet the definition of joint authorship.

That's an interesting theory, and if it was upheld it would have
significant legal consequences for open source software.  In
particular it could mean that a significant contributer to a piece of
software might then have the right to unilaterally relicense the whole
piece of software.  Under any license.

I'm not in a position to judge that interpretation (IANAL and all
that), but I can say that this outcome would run directly counter to
everything that I've ever heard about open source licensing.

> I think also that people who submit modules for the Linux kernel
> also meet the second part of the definition: there is relatively
> little kernel code that was originally developed for a separate
> purpose outside the kernel.

It may well be that the derived work has  no use outside of the
kernel.  However the converse is not true - the kernel made perfect
sense before the inclusion of that derived work, and would continue to
do so if the derived work was removed.  Therefore I don't think that
this contribution should (or does) give you a copyright claim on the
rest of the kernel.


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