In the context of academic research, a company holds a GitHub account.

Researchers come and go, and many create a repository related to their research project, using open-source licenses such as GPL3.

If I understood correctly, the code authorship belongs to the researcher, but the intellectual property belongs to the company.

Therefore, should the repository be published on the researcher's account and then forked on the company's, or rather the other way around?

This happens in France, in case it matters.

  • 3
    Note that the concept of forking repositories from another is purely a Github user interface thing. You can git clone a GitHub repo and then git push the contents to a different GitHub repo and they'll both look identical. Git is decentralized, there's no concept of owner or original.
    – amon
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 12:21
  • @amon this misconception makes my question a bit senseless. Thanks for clarifying. Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 13:01
  • The copyright owner is not necessarily the researcher, it depends on what their contract with the company says. see "work-for-hire" and similar concepts.
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 17:59
  • @mmmmmm In France at least, the copyright owner is the company but the author is still the researcher. I think this is the same everywhere: if you buy a Van Gogh you are the owner of the copy but you cannot buy being the author. Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 19:11
  • The issue is that the only thing that matters is the copyright owner
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


From a legal point of view, it doesn't matter. You should ensure that the copyright statement in each file correctly names whichever entity owns the copyright.

From an academic credit point of view, you should follow whatever standards exist in your field, but I've never seen one which cares about the implementation details of a specific hosting platform.

  • Thanks! I've never seen a copyright statement on a git repo, would you have an example? Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 13:03
  • 2
    "The copyright statement in each file" (my emphasis); the FSF have extensive guidance as to what you need to do when releasing software under the GPL, and this includes "Give each file the proper copyright notices". If you're not already doing this, you (or at least, anyone attempting to reuse your software) have bigger problems than worrying about which direction a fork points. Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 13:10
  • @PhilipKendall: Pursuant to the Berne Convention, copyright notices are not required in order for copyright to be effective. The FSF does not have the legal authority to abrogate that treaty. Including copyright notices is good practice, nothing more and nothing less.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 19:42
  • 1
    @Kevin The Berne Convention is irrelevant here; the question is what meets the GPL's definition of "an appropriate copyright notice" (Section 4 of v3). Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 21:48
  • 1
    @PhilipKendall: That section requires such a notice on "each copy" of "the Program's source code." So you can put it in the README, the main source file, or wherever you want as long as it is present. Remember, the FAQ and Howto are not part of the license. Of course, if such notices are already present, it might violate the license to remove them.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 22:20

First of all you need to respect what is agreed between the company and the researcher. Usually there is a written contract. Some companies allow publication, others don't. Some have a specific policy about the licenses under which the research results may be published.

Usually, the copyright is owned by the one who pays. In the case you describe it seems to be the company who pays, therefore they need to be given the copyright attribution. The agreement between company and researcher might give some rights to the researcher, a license, possibly with sub-licensing rights. That should be part of the agreement.

In some cases there is a joint funding (public and private) for the researcher. Research foundations, subsidies for companies, innovation partnerships, research grants Schemes, etc. where part of the pay for the researcher comes from the public sources. These settings have their own rules about ownership of the work product, and the rules are very country-specific.

After considering all of the above, it will be clear how a publication on GitHub can be done, who owns the copyright, who owns the right to apply for patents, which OSS licenses may (or may not) be used. There is no 'one size fits all' rule. You should ask the legal department of the company which employs you as a researcher to provide you with all the relevant documents.

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