[License-discuss] Special rights granted by open-source licenses

Nicholas Matthew Neft Weinstock nweinsto at qti.qualcomm.com
Wed Jan 9 17:34:28 UTC 2019

You’re only talking about Copyright law.  The equivalent in Patent law is only for the named inventors.  So if a FOSS project wants to change license they would need to be certain that the scope of the patent grant is unchanged, or get approval from every contributor that is actually granting a license to one or more patents.  And since projects don’t keep track of which contributors are granting a patent license, that would effectively need to be every contributor to be completely certain.


From: License-discuss <license-discuss-bounces at lists.opensource.org> On Behalf Of John Cowan
Sent: Tuesday, January 8, 2019 7:11 PM
To: license-discuss at lists.opensource.org
Subject: [License-discuss] Special rights granted by open-source licenses


On Tue, Jan 8, 2019 at 9:14 PM Brendan Hickey <brendan.m.hickey at gmail.com<mailto:brendan.m.hickey at gmail.com>> wrote:

As for the impossibly of relicensing FOSS code under a license that doesn't freely allow you to do so, I must disagree. About ten years ago Dungeon Crawl was relicensed under the GPLv3. Originally it used the Nethack license, or something similar. We contacted about two hundred contributors. In one case we secured permission from a contributor's estate. It was a chore, but we did it.

I believe that that chore was legally unnecessary.  If the contributors intended their contributions to form an integral part of the work, then it is a joint work, and (under US law at least), any contributor to a joint work may unilaterally license the work on any terms, as long as they are responsibile to the co-authors for the profits, if any.  In this case presumably there were none.  It may have been good politics or publicity not to take advantage of unilateral relicensing, of course.

John Cowan          http://vrici.lojban.org/~cowan        cowan at ccil.org<mailto:cowan at ccil.org>
You let them out again, Old Man Willow!
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