5

Say I create an Open Source project on Github licensed under e.g. LGPL like Qt. As I understand ownership of code, if I wrote a piece of code, I am free to change the license at a later point, as long as I keep a LGPL version of the old code. This could be because I want to further develop it into a solution I want to sell, again like the Qt dual license.

Enter a pull request. Someone commits 10 lines to the LGPL version. Can I no longer change the license, or do I essentially still own the code since it is my repo?

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    Depends on jurisdiction. Which jurisdiction do you want this answered for? – FUZxxl Jan 20 '16 at 10:19
  • @FUZxxl Wait what? In what sense does this depend on the jurisdiction? – Zizouz212 Jan 21 '16 at 23:14
  • @Zizouz212 Yes. For example, in German jurisdiction only people with major contributions have to be asked when changing the license and agreement by (I think) authors of 2/3 of the project is sufficient. I have to look this up though. There is also some special behaviour with respect to attribution which you may or may not be allowed to remove depending on jurisdiction. – FUZxxl Jan 22 '16 at 0:06
  • @FUZxxl Wow! I learned something new today. Thanks for sharing! :D – Zizouz212 Jan 22 '16 at 0:09
  • @Zizouz212 Please don't take this as a fact. I'm not sure about this. In general, different jurisdictions are different. A legal question cannot be answered without knowing the jurisdiction. This should be part of the site rules. – FUZxxl Jan 22 '16 at 0:14
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Say you have a project under a permissive license (like MIT). Then I can go clone it, and build a copyleft licensed package on it (say GPL). If I ask you to pull, you are getting my modifications under copyleft (GPL, in this case), and have to respect that.

You should make absolutely clear under which conditions you accept code pulls (or any other contribution, for that matter). In thorny cases, you'll have to get the pullee to agree to give the code under your licence, or perhaps even sign paperwork (a CLA or even sign the copyright over to you, as e.g. the FSF requires).

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If all the code is yours, then you can do anything that you would like with it. You can change the license, or even remove the license altogether. You don't have to keep a version licensed under the LGPL. If all the code is yours, you can do anything with it. Including dual-licensing similar to Qt.

But if some of that code is not yours, then you've got a bit of a problem. That person's code is licensed to you under the LGPL, and you can't change it.

So what can you do?

You've got two viable options:

  • Remove any code that is theirs, and make sure that all the code in the repository belongs to you. You can then follow the steps in my first paragraph.
  • Ask the contributor if they will license the code under another license. If they don't, then back to point one.
  • Be careful, code already distributed under one licence stays under that license. – vonbrand Jan 17 '16 at 22:11
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    Another option: get all contributors to sign a copyright transfer agreement, or a licensing agreement which allows you to change the license at any future time. – curiousdannii Jan 18 '16 at 5:49

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