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Say I publish a project under AGPLv3 terms with a LICENSE.md and code headers stating the terms, the year and the author. From what I understand, I am the sole licensor of this project and not bound by the terms of the license. E.g. if I choose to continue the development, I am free not to publish any further changes.

By default, pull-requests are licensed under the same terms as the repository they are contributed to (see GitHub's T&S), meaning that if I accept pull-requests, the project now contains AGPLv3 licensed code from different authors (licensors). In doing so I have therefore also become a licensee to these other authors, making me bound by the terms of AGPLv3. Provided this premise holds true – and please correct me if it does not –, what kind of implications does this have for me as the original author?

Specifically, I have the following questions:

  1. Is it correct that I will now have to publish any further changes made to the project?
  2. Do I have to alter the LICENSE.md and the code headers since there are now multiple authors contributing? Do I have to include additional LICENSE.md files?
  3. Is there a way to ensure that I stay the sole licensor of the project while still accepting PRs?
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Is it correct that I will now have to publish any further changes made to the project?

No. But if you choose to distribute it, you will be obliged to fulfil the licence's obligations, including making source available under AGPLv3 to recipients of the binaries. In addition, any user interacting with your hosted copy of the modified version is entitled to ask for full source, under AGPLv3 s13, and you'll be obliged to provide it.

Do I have to alter the LICENSE.md and the code headers since there are now multiple authors contributing? Do I have to include additional LICENSE.md files?

You will need to add the contributors' copyright headers alongside your own, at least in the file(s) modified by their contributions. LICENCE.md files have no particular copyright meaning, so what you do with them is up to you; though I would have thought out of politeness it would be nice to add their copyright header alongside your own there, also, even if it's limited, for example:

(c) 2019-2021 Quadrate Code
Some parts also (c) 2021 Pat Contributor

Is there a way to ensure that I stay the sole licensor of the project while still accepting PRs?

Yes, before you accept or even examine their contributions you can have all your contributors sign Copyright Licensing Agreements which grant you the right to relicence their contributions. Once that's done you can use those contributions under (eg) a permissive licence rather than having to accept the AGPL. Search on this site for "CLA" to read much more information about them.

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  • Brilliant, thanks! Just one thing is not entirely clear to me from your answer. What do you mean by saying that LICENSE.md files have no particular copyright meaning? Dec 9 '21 at 11:09
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    @quadratecode I mean there's nothing in the Berne Convention that speaks about those files. They have no special meaning in copyright law; they're a custom-and-practice artefact of GitHub. If you choose to use one, by all means update as I have suggested. But you're not required to have one at all; its absence has no effect on the validity of your licence terms.
    – MadHatter
    Dec 9 '21 at 11:30

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