I am conflicted about the licensing for one of my projects. My goals for the license are very similar to the GPL, with one notable exception. I want to remain the sole copyright owner - to keep options like potentially commercially licensing the project under another license open.

In my understanding, all would be fine with just the GPL, except for contributions. The way all the big projects work is, by requiring contributors to sign a CLA/CTA - which to be frank is hugely unrealistic for 99% of contributors to do for something like a simple bug fix.

This question is certainly similar to this one this one The main differences being a) Exclusive copyright and b) enforceability; is a comment on a PR enough? ('Do you agree with the terms as stated in...?' 'I do'). Thanks.

  • 2
    Copyright assignments are impossible in some countries, which is why CLAs are more useful (and achieve essentially the same effect). There may also be formal requirements for a transfer, e.g. written form, or that the original rightsholder receives something in consideration for transferring the copyright. This is very much something you shouldn't do something by yourself, but would require a lawyer to draw up a reliable contract.
    – amon
    Dec 17, 2020 at 21:48
  • You might also want to read this question, which considers the validity of click-through and implicit CLA/CTAs.
    – MadHatter
    Dec 18, 2020 at 7:21

1 Answer 1


The reason that all the big projects have CLAs or similar is precisely because they have been advised by their lawyers that a comment on a PR or similar isn't enough to protect them. You can make your own judgment based on that.

  • In my assessment the situation for a company is different, they have far more to risk, legally and financially than I, or most other individuals. Furthermore, a company has a far greater capacity to keep a system like that up. And trust - are you gonna send your signature to some rando on GitHub? And for bigger companies, popularity isn't a problem too
    – Mikdore
    Dec 17, 2020 at 21:15
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    @Mikdore If you make contributions difficult, you won't get contributions – which incidentally achieves your purpose of remaining the sole copyright holder. Here you'll have to balance what is more important to you: remaining in total control, or collaborating in the open source community. A “cathedral style” development model without community contributions is perfectly valid, though rather unusual. GNU requires a written CTA/CLA for contributions to its projects which I find incredibly annoying, to the point that I'm not even trying to contribute some glibc enhancements I've prototyped.
    – amon
    Dec 17, 2020 at 21:53
  • @amon I get that, that's why in the best case the transfer would be automatic, similar to how licensing automatically applies 'just' by adding a LICENSE file
    – Mikdore
    Dec 17, 2020 at 22:27
  • 1
    Best case for whom? You, or a contributor who accidentally gives you copyright on their contributions? The law (correctly IMO) makes it hard to transfer copyright so as to protect people from giving up their rights without it being clear they have a full understanding of what they are giving up. Dec 17, 2020 at 22:31
  • @PhilipKendall The best case would be someone submits a PR, and a bot responds to them linking relevant information before the PR can go into review they have to comment with something like 'I agree'. The project is still mine, and I expect the vast majority of the work will be done by me. Therefore I think it's fair to hold the copyright to, well, my project.
    – Mikdore
    Dec 17, 2020 at 23:37

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