I am new to open-source world. I have contributed some code to an open-source project licensed under GPLv3 but with no contributor agreement license.

Is it legal for the original author to upload the project somewhere else and delete the commit history of contributors (despite my code contribution still being there in the new uploaded project)?

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    In the code as it currently is, are your copyright statements preserved in your contributions?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 14:45
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    I repeat my specific question. When you contributed code, you included copyright declarations of the form (c) 2022 O. K. Validation, yes? And have those been preserved in the code?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 15:37
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    @MadHatter: I didn't include copyright declarations of that form. I have just corrected a bug and submitted two pull requests and got merged.
    – Amazigh_05
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 17:30
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    Is your total contribution substantial? Minor and trivial bugfixes may not be worth the noise in the code.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 8:20
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    @ReversedEngineer the OP was worried about the removal of commit messages without accompanying removal of contributed code, which I thought meant (s)he was worried about concomitant loss of credit. I pointed out that commit messages aren't the right way to claim credit in free software, but copyright messages are: not only are they traditional, they're protected by most free software licences.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 7:56

1 Answer 1


Nearly all free software licences require the preservation of existing copyright notices. If the author of a piece of GPLv3 software accepted your modified version, then since this code had to be conveyed under the terms of GPLv3, the author is required to preserve your copyright notice.

Nearly no free software licences concern themselves with the minutiae of source-code control systems, so nearly none of them make any reference to "commit messages" or "history", nor are there any requirements to preserve the artefacts of a particular source-code control system. This is unquestionably a good thing, since otherwise projects would be full of foo.c,v files we could never remove.

You should go back to the author, apologetically point out that GPLv3 s5a required you to add a copyright notice to the file(s) you modified (and in which you now have a copyright interest), and ask if you could add those in a separate pull request. Strictly speaking, the author isn't obliged to accept them, but most people in free software understand that the copyright notice is the standard currency of acknowledgement - and that source-code control system artefacts aren't.

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    @Barmar some do (notably, FSF projects), but most don’t. Even among projects with contributor agreements, most of those are contributor licensing agreements, not copyright assignment agreements. Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 15:54
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    What is a foo.c,v file?
    – Bergi
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 20:27
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    @Bergi it's an RCS file, a 40-year-old system for tracking and crediting source changes - which is rather my point. JoL, yes, they still hold copyright - the OP's question seemed to be about credit rather than copyright or re-licensing rights. Everyone else, could I beg you stop having conversations in this comments field?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 22:34
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    Maybe not in this case, but imagine every single committer adding his name and mail address to every single source file in every single open source project. ...
    – AnoE
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 12:55
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    @MadHatter, I did not try to put words in your mouth, but was elaborating why the factual statement you make in your accepted answer (GPLv3 somehow requiring someone to add a copyright notice to the files they are modifying) is not only not part of GPLv3 when reading the actual formulation there, but why it often would not even be wise to do so. The answer is accepted, so it doesn't matter anymore I guess. I'd hate if people casually reading this in the future then think doing it that way really is part of the GPLv3, there's enough confusion out there as it is, anyways...
    – AnoE
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 14:20

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