Implications for switching licenses mid-stream

Chris Zumbrunn chris at
Thu Apr 24 08:26:16 UTC 2008

On Apr 23, 2008, at 20:43 , Rick Moen wrote:

> Quoting Chris Zumbrunn (chris at
>> Write the sentence "Only the copyright holder can relicense." 50  
>> times
>> on the blackboard.
> Here's your hypothetical:  I'm lead maintainer of a project issued  
> under
> licence A.  You contribute code to the project.  Let's say you are, in
> that regard, one of a number of contributors, and that for purposes of
> copyright law the codebase is considered a collective work.  (If you  
> are
> unfamiliar with the law covering collective works, that is your  
> problem
> and is the reason you didn't follow my point.)
> Let's say that, as lead maintainer, I subsequently decide to issue
> future releases of the code under licence B, which I judge to better
> protect my interests and those of my contributors.  Let's say that the
> change is one that is highly unlikely to injure the economic interests
> of any of the contributors -- say, from new-BSD to Larry Rosen's AFL.
> Let's say that I'm being unwise and a bit of a jerk in how I handle  
> this
> transition, and fail to consult the contributors, let alone secure  
> their
> approval, before making the licence change.
> OK, you're one of the contributors, and are severely annoyed by not
> being consulted.  You feel you've been somehow wronged, and consult  
> your
> attorney.  You decide to bring litigation.  One problem:  What's your
> specific cause of action?  What exact tort have I committed against  
> you?
> I think you'll find that there is, in fact, no tort committed in that
> situation.

Right, which is why I wrote that if the project leader doesn't cause  
injury to contributors, he could get away with switching between  
permissive licenses. But that doesn't mean he actually has the legal  
right to relicense. It just means he would de facto get away with what  
he de jure would not be allowed to do.

>> Plus, one could argue that relicense != sublicense.
> Irrelevant to the situation discussed, sir.

Except in the context of the comments to which this was in reply to  
(those by Ben Tilly and Arnoud Engelfriet).


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