Let's say I take a software (Work) distributed under GPLv3 compatible license, and create a Derivative Work. Can I distribute it (the Derivative Work) under GPLv3 license? If not, how can I make a Derivative Work part of a project distributed under GPLv3?

2 Answers 2


In brief, yes.

The very definition of a GPLv3-compatible licence is that "you can combine code released under the other license with code released under the GNU GPL in one larger program". If you are not the rightsholder in the GPLv3 code, then (by GPLv3 s5c) you must release the entire derivative work under GPLv3. Since in this case you are the rightsholder, you do not have to do that, but you very clearly may.

  • If you are not the rightsholder, though, then I think the answer should be "yes, you can combine the code" but "no, you can't change the license." In most cases the license must remain the same (e.g. MIT code can be included in the GPLv3 project, because MIT is compatible, but the code that is included in the GPL project still is MIT licensed and it still must follow the MIT license requirements).
    – Brandin
    Jan 4 at 8:51
  • I fundamentally disagree, and make my position and argument clearer here. GPLv3 s5c is pretty clear, by the way ("This License will therefore apply ... to the whole of the work, and all its parts"). The entire combined work must be released under GPL, rather than some chimeric half-GPL-half-MIT beast, and if this were not possible, there would be no such thing as a compatible licence.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 4 at 8:54
  • The wording in your linked post is much clearer, the "combined terms of both the X license and the GPL license." For example if it's MIT licensed code, you can "add on" the GPL requirements on top of that to the MIT license requirements. But the MIT requirements don't go away. I think it's just a wording disagreement. I.e. you can 'change' the license in the sense that you can change your home by adding a room onto it (i.e. old rooms remain), but as the non-rightsholder you cannot change the license in the sense of changing your attire from a necktie to a bowtie (i.e. old attire removed).
    – Brandin
    Jan 4 at 9:29
  • The question that makes the distinction clear is this: can I, on receiving a copy of the derived work, extract from it those parts that were originally MIT-only, and use them under MIT-only terms? I believe I can't; if you agree, then I, too, think we're just discussing nomenclature.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 4 at 9:44

Unless the original license explicitly allows it, you can not drop the license of the original Work and replace it with the GPLv3. What you can do is that you license your modifications under the GPLv3 license.

Although the GPLv3 requires that you distribute the entire Derived Work under the GPLv3 license, it does not give you permission to go against the requirements of the original license. For a GPL-compatible original license, this means in effect only that you can't just throw away the original license text. (Although, officially it means you need to comply with the requirements of both licenses where it comes to code that was part of the original Work.)

  • GPLv3 s5c is pretty clear that the interpretation in your first para won't fly. If your argument held, GPLv3 s12 would prohibit any redistribution of the derived work. I agree with everything you've stated in the second para, though.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 4 at 9:14
  • @MadHatter, I updated the first paragraph to better reflect what I meant. Jan 4 at 9:32
  • Thank you for that, but I still disagree with it. GPLv3 s5c is very clear that it's not just the modifications but the whole work and all of its constituent parts that must be licensed under GPLv3.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 4 at 9:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.