There is a repository of code that I have made pull requests and added code to, and that code that I have contributed is in the master branch. The code is under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license, as the title states. The code is for a website, and there is a website that is currently live that uses the code in the master branch of the repository.

Now, suppose I wanted to make a fork of this repository, and create my own website using the modified fork. I understand that this is protected under the license, as long as attribution is added. Now suppose I want to monetize this website. As I understand, this is not allowed under the license, however, it is possible to get permission from the author in a separate agreement. My question is, if there are multiple contributors to the code that is in the master branch of the original repository, do I need express permission from each contributor? Am I considered part of the authorship in that regard, because I have contributed to the code that is currently in the master branch of the original repository? I'd like to know if the first and original author of the code has sole control over that, or if that control is now spread between all contributors, once they have contributed code to the original repository.

  • BY monetize, you mean selling the software for the website or using it to sell other things ? Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 1:12
  • By monetize, I mean using the website to sell things. I would not be selling the software or any of the code. I'm confused on a lot of this, because from what it seems like, Creative Commons is not the best license to use for software. I believe the original author was mistaken in using it for "open source" software without commercial use.
    – K. LeBlanc
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 16:00

1 Answer 1


If the project had you and other contributors formally sign a contributor licensing agreement (CLA) that outlines terms under which the project may use contributions, then the project maintainer can use contributions under the terms of that CLA.

If contributors don't have to sign a CLA, then the only thing that affords those contributors the right to prepare/contribute derivatives, and for you to use those derivatives, is the CC BY-NC-SA license present on the work and its derivatives. That is to say: we can assume all contributors offered their improvements under the same terms or more permissive terms (a contributor may say "everyone may use my piece however they like").

The central relevant legal question is: if you got special permission from some set of authors to use the work for NC-incompatible purposes, does there exist any contributor who could successfully sue you for unlicensed use of their copyrighted work?

If there is one main author who already has CLAs in place to grant permission for the whole work, then you're set: the copyright holders of all contributions have given that main author permission to relicense their contributions.

If the contributors are each joint authors of the work as a whole under U.S. law, rather than authors of their individual sections, then any single joint author can license the whole work under terms of their choice. I have not extensively studied the subject so I don't know under what circumstances joint authorship manifests in a work. (A clear example of joint authorship is when two people work together to coauthor and co-edit a novel -- software development can sometimes resemble this, but I don't know what subjective tests to apply to decide for any given software project.)

Failing either of those two cases, you will have to get permission from each author, or else risk liability for misuse of some author's copyrighted material.

  • 1
    Thanks. That's what I was interested in hearing. Nobody has signed a CLA as far as I'm aware, it has never been mentioned. It is very questionable why the original author chose CC as the license. There are 26 contributors in total. I'm assuming that if I don't get everyone to agree, I should remove their pieces? I don't think that should be difficult.
    – K. LeBlanc
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 17:23
  • Removing their pieces may well not free up the work in the way you think it does. If you don't want to use this content under CC BY-NC-SA, don't use it at all.
    – MadHatter
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 20:59
  • Suppose that I am going to use this code, and I do need to hypothetically remove those pieces. Would it then be best to fork from a version before the pieces that I need to remove were added, and re-add pieces that are allowed to be used?
    – K. LeBlanc
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 23:56
  • I suppose I should say, if I am able to revert those pieces cleanly instead.
    – K. LeBlanc
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 0:28
  • @DarkChungus, (Provably) starting off from a point in the history where the contributions from the problematic authors didn't exist yet is the easiest way to prove that the authors don't have a copyright claim on the modified work. Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 6:41

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