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

Matthew Flaschen matthew.flaschen at
Sat Jul 7 03:33:18 UTC 2007

Rick Moen wrote:
> Quoting John Cowan (cowan at
>> Okay, I'm sold.
> This portion struck me as particularly interesting:
>   The difference is practically relevant because, according to 17 USC 201,
>   the holder of the collective-work copyright is legally privileged to set 
>   the distribution terms for the package as a whole. (In the statute, this 
>   expressed negatively as a statement that the collective-work copyright 
>   holder acquires only those rights.)
> Community opinion strongly holds that this is _untrue_ -- that a
> codebase project leader must first always secure individual signoff of
> every single damn contributor back to the Dawn of Time, before he/she
> may lawfully issue a revised instance under a new licence (even if
> he/she carefully avoids injuring contributors' economic interests).
> It turns out that -- as a matter of law, as opposed to ethical norms -- 
> the cited community view is pure bullshit.

It's far from certain that they are correct about this.  Others, such as
the Apache project, would seem to disagree.  They have clearly defined
coauthors, but still require broad and explicit contributor licenses
( and take the view that only
the foundation (not the coauthors) can relicense.

>   To solve this problem, we need to go beyond recognizing that project
>   leads have the legal authority to set licensing terms, and cede them
>   the ethical authority to do it as well.


Matt Flaschen

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