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I recently forked a relatively new GPLv3 project on GitHub, as it had seemingly been abandoned not long after its creator had published it, and I wanted to make some improvements, as it was in a fairly broken state and I had a use for it.

I got in touch with the creator of the project to talk about where he was at with it, as I had more or less rewritten everything, having none of their code remaining in my fork.

Our visions of the project differed, so we decided to create a new working branch under the original project for a new project that was more advanced and in line with my vision, as the original creator wanted to have joint ownership of it.

The original creator has since copy-pasted my contributions (mostly verbatim) to this new project into his own, old project with zero attribution to me. Do I have any recourse here? I do not plan on taking any action, though I would like to know what my position is under GPLv3, or if this is rather a moral violation.

We did recently have a bit of a spat lately over some commercial interest in the project, which we reached an agreement on, and I'm wondering if this is a way to get back at my position in that?

At this point I just really don't want to work with the guy any longer.

Thanks in advance!

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The simple answer is that this is a copyright violation by the other person; the only right they had to use your copyrighted code was under the GPL v3, and that requires (amongst other things) appropriate attribution.

Your first action at this point should be to formally notify the other person that you consider them to be violating the GPL by not including attribution to you; they then have 30 days to remedy the breach (see Section 8 of the GPL v3).

If they do not remedy the breach, your options are at that point are what they would be for any other copyright violation; practically, this means you could file a notice of copyright violation and get your property removed from the project. You could in theory sue for actual damages, but the only people likely to make any money from that are the lawyers.

This assumes that you did properly attribute your code when contributing it, ideally with the full template as suggested by the GPL, but at bare minimum with a copyright statement along the lines of "Copyright (c) 2022 waterfall123"; if you didn't do that, it gets murky as it could be argued you voluntarily gave up your right to be attributed.

(This also assumes you did not sign any kind of contributor agreement and there is no way any work you did could be considered "work for hire" i.e. you were not paid for writing the code)

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  • Unfortunately I did not specifically add a copyright statement, I had assumed the commit history would be sufficient to keep track of ownership, though I didn't sign a CLA either. Thanks for that though, I appreciate it. Honestly at this point I don't intend on taking any action, I think I'll just distance myself from the project and move on to bigger and better things which I have full ownership of. Aug 2 at 20:59
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    For reference: GPL v3 Section 5(a): "The work must carry prominent notices stating that you modified it, and giving a relevant date."; the commit history is not considered to be part of the work as it's perfectly possible to distribute the work without involving git or any other VCS at all. But certainly the simplest is just to move on. Aug 2 at 21:05
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    ... and learn from this: copyright statements are an important part of the free software ecosystem.
    – MadHatter
    Aug 3 at 7:26

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