When software is diffused under an open-source licence I imagine that a project becomes the "intellectual property" of the community.

However, I'm not clear about this answer in that an author agrees that code can be part of a compiled and closed source project.

Perhaps this is specifically possible with creative commons?

Or does a "copyright holder" (the project initiator?) have the possibility of diffusing software under a second licence as Madhatter seems to be saying in a comment on this answer?


2 Answers 2


When software is diffused under an open-source licence I imagine that a project becomes the "intellectual property" of the community.

This is incorrect. Unless copyright has been reassigned, the content creator owns their contributions to a work. As a copyright holder, you can freely choose what rights you want to grant to other people, including different rights to different people.

In the example that you linked to, the copyright holder gave permission to use the work in a manner that is different than the rights specified to people who receive it under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. That is their prerogative as the copyright holder.

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    the content creator owns their contributions to a work Ah ok. This explains the mayhem that took place when someone pulled their contributions out of a few projects.
    – James P.
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:38
  • What I still don't understand is that a developer would have chosen a licence in order to be hosted on a site like Github. Does this mean that the project on Github is made available as such but the developer or contributor is free to reuse their own code as they wish?
    – James P.
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:44
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    @JamesPoulson Yes. Unless you reassigned the rights, you hold the copyright on the work. You can do whatever you want with it. Anyone who receives it from GitHub receives it under a given license. They can make it available on GitHub under multiple licenses, or choose to grant individuals rights on an individual basis, too. Jun 9, 2016 at 16:56
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    @ThomasOwens when you say "They can make it available...under multiple licences", I take it They is the copyright holder, not the Anyone who receives it from GitHub?
    – MadHatter
    Jun 9, 2016 at 17:07
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    @MadHatter Yes. Depending on the license, sublicensing may be allowed. But the copyright holder is always allowed to make their work available under any license(s) they choose. Jun 9, 2016 at 17:14

The copyright holder for code (or other IP) can choose to apply one or more licenses to their work. That is, the person (or perhaps their employer, depending on their employment agreement) who actually wrote the code owns the copyright, and they can choose to provide it to you under a specific license. They can also provide it to someone else under a different license, or not license it to someone else.

The "community" does not directly matter. However in an open source project, where many different people are writing software together, it depends on the license and the project. Some projects require copyright assignment to the Foundation that runs the project; then the Foundation can choose which licenses it provides. Otherwise, every individual contributor owns their own copyright, and typically the software as a whole is provided to everyone under the same open source license.

To get more detailed than that you need to provide a specific example of the code, licenses, and rights you're asking about.

Note that software on github that does not have a LICENSE file is not licensed to you, only provided under the GitHub terms of service, which only allows you to "to allow others to view and fork your repositories", not otherwise redistribute them at all.

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