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I'm looking to fork a project on GitHub that was last updated "Three Years Ago" according to GitHub, I've written to the author and not gotten a response - so I assume the project is dead.

I like the project and what it stands for, I use it every day in fact, so I'd like to continue a version of it, at least. The project has been licensed under GPLv2, is it possible for me to upgrade my forked version to GPLv3? I'm new to open-source licensing - usually I just write plugins under the MIT license.

Any advice you might have would be appreciated - this will be my first project of any kind, let alone an open-source one.

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If every GPL-licensed piece of the project including its dependencies contains the option to use a later version of the GPL, then yes, you can use the GPL v3 (or any hypothetical later version). Generally, this will be indicated by the suggested phrasing from the GPL v2 in each source file:

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

(my emphasis), but other wordings could in theory be used. If a single piece of the project does not allow you to upgrade to GPL v3, then you cannot do this unless you replace that piece.

I've written to the author and not gotten a response - so I assume the project is dead

As an aside, this is irrelevant from a legal point of view. One of the fundamental tenets of open source is that you can fork it, and this is independent of whether a project is actively developed, gets a commit once in a while, seems to be dead, is officially declared abandoned by its developers or any other state.

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    Also note, that the license of a 'seemingly dead' project needs to be held up in the same manner as one developed actively by 100s of people. Feb 6 at 20:44

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