NOTICE: Not A duplicate of Am I allowed to add additional copyright on modified code that originally the FSF released under GPLv3: The previous question answered if I'm allowed to copyright modifications to software published by the FSF at all. The current question tries to find out if the FSF applies the same rules regarding copyright to forking as they do to contributing.

I've been reading the GNU FAQ and found the following:

Why does the FSF require that contributors to FSF-copyrighted programs assign copyright to the FSF? If I hold copyright on a GPLed program, should I do this, too? If so, how? (#AssignCopyright)

Our lawyers have told us that to be in the best position to enforce the GPL in court against violators, we should keep the copyright status of the program as simple as possible. We do this by asking each contributor to either assign the copyright on contributions to the FSF, or disclaim copyright on contributions.

We also ask individual contributors to get copyright disclaimers from their employers (if any) so that we can be sure those employers won't claim to own the contributions.

Of course, if all the contributors put their code in the public domain, there is no copyright with which to enforce the GPL. So we encourage people to assign copyright on large code contributions, and only put small changes in the public domain.

If you want to make an effort to enforce the GPL on your program, it is probably a good idea for you to follow a similar policy. Please contact [email protected] if you want more information.

From my understanding I must disclaim copyright or assign it to the FSF if I'm contributing to FSF-copyrighted programs. Does the same apply if I fork the project in order to modify it and port it to another compiler?

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    really... the same question again, 12 hours later? Nov 23, 2020 at 8:25
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    Though my answer does explicitly. Nov 23, 2020 at 9:25
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    as I told you in the answer there, the quoted FAQ part here has no bearing and relation to and on what you are allowed to do with the code at all as as it only deals with the FSF procedures and requirements for accepting patches. Nov 23, 2020 at 11:04
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    @globalturist: Your previous question is also about forking, because it says "My intentions are to post it on github as a standalone project." That's forking, so this question is indeed a duplicate of the other one.
    – Kevin
    Nov 23, 2020 at 19:16

1 Answer 1


This is not a legal concern, but one of project policy. What this FAQ item says is essentially: if you submit contributions to the GNU project, they will not use them unless you first assign copyright to the FSF.

You are free to make modifications to GNU code and retain copyright on your modifications, but do not expect them to be accepted back into mainline GNU code. (This may not be something you want to do anyway.)

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    From what I understand I can retain copyright for my modifications if I fork libstdc++ without the intention to ever contribute/make pull requests. However, if I contribute only then should I assign copyright to the FSF did I understand it correctly ? Nov 23, 2020 at 8:39
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    @globalturist Yes, in other words, the GCC project is not interested in having to handle distributing a codebase with lots and lots of copyright owners (because that makes any license change a nightmare). If you're fine with having to handle these concerns for your tree yourself, you can just go ahead. The FSF just tells you they're not interested in incorporating your modifications if they come with strings attached (in the form of a requirement to ask your permission for any further license change or enforcement).
    – TooTea
    Nov 23, 2020 at 13:54
  • @TooTea gcc.gnu.org/contribute.html recently changed, so that GCC no longer insists on a copyright assignment for contributions.
    – prosfilaes
    Jul 25, 2022 at 14:41

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