copyright/copyleft question

Forum: LinuxTotal Replies: 5
Author Content

May 27, 2016
8:54 AM EDT
Let's say that you write a program and you release it, let's say on github, after attaching your copyright and a license, let's say GPL. Now someone makes an improvement to your code by adding 10 new lines and sends you a pull request.

When you merge his 10 line change who now owns the copyright to this program. Only you? or do you now need to add this contributor to a growing list of copyright holders?

May 27, 2016
10:06 AM EDT
My understanding:

The copyright holder is always the person or organization who authored the code, unless there is a copyright assignment agreement.

The correct way, I believe, to merge the code is to add the code author to the copyright statement within the code's source tree.

But... I am not an expert.

May 27, 2016
1:58 PM EDT
> When you merge his 10 line change who now owns the copyright to this program.

You hold the copyright on your code. He holds the copyright on his. So once the code is merged, you both hold the copyright, and you need to add him to the list of contributors. As dotmatrix notes, ideally the exact lines are appropriately commented in the code too.

May 28, 2016
1:01 PM EDT
i am not a lawyer, but even if i were, this would not be legal advice.

everyone keeps the copyright on the code they wrote even after the code is merged.

if you want to change the license, then everyone needs to agree. if someone doesn't agree you need to remove the code they contributed.

if someone violates the license anyone who holds a part of the copyright may sue the violator.

this is why some projects use copyright assignments. it gives them the power to change the license without the contributors permission.

but this is also why large projects can be fine without copyright assignments. any contributor can help to defend the license.

greetings, eMBee.

May 28, 2016
2:58 PM EDT
First, thanks to everyone for the excellent feedback on my question. Although I didn't explicitly state it, I was wanting help wrestling with the issue of to assign or not to assign copyrights.

So if I were to summarize,

1. Without a copyright assignment, the choice of license becomes basically irrevocable once the number of contributors becomes large, so the choice of license is very important when releasing a project. There is no turning back the clock on that decision.

2. But the offsetting advantage is that a multitude of stakeholders (copyright owners) serves to strengthen the FOSS-ness of the project. If a company like Microsoft, just to pick a random example, would like to Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish the project, they must face more than just one individual developer.

3. And there is undoubtedly another big advantage, that being the dedication of the project team. Each contributor rightfully feels true ownership of their contributions.

May 28, 2016
8:34 PM EDT
> Each contributor rightfully feels true ownership of their contributions.

There are at least a minority of coders who won't contribute without that ownership. I've heard of a number of people who simply refuse to contribute code unless they retain the copyright.

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