This person has a piece of open source code which is released under a copyleft license. They are required to give me this code, but numerous times they have refused. I am stuck because I need this code....

My question:

Is there anything I can do to make them give me the code?

  • If yes, how?
  • If no, what else can I do?
  • 1
    Don't want to post as an answer because I'm not sure ... wouldn't the License author have a stake in pursuing this? If it's GPL, for example, and it's not enforced, then that weakens the FSF in other court cases. Same goes for Apache or one of the OSI licenses.
    – kdopen
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 19:25
  • 3
    You're making pretty big claims with little to no information about the situation. Is this person the one who distributed it to you? Was it distributed to you? (By "it", I mean the executable.) This question lacks the details necessary to actually answer, and is thus too broad.
    – RubberDuck
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 17:28

5 Answers 5


Enforcing can be difficult, and you would likely have to go through the courts, in order to enforce. Be sure to make sure that they have to do it under the terms of the license as well. Make sure that you notify the project's author, as they may be able to help you in this case as well.

  • 4
    Only the copyright holder can pursue legal remedies for license violations.
    – Craig
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 18:06
  • @Craig that's jurisdictionally-dependent; see the section on third-party rights in this article (full disclosure: I wrote the article, but I didn't give the talk on which it is based - that was done by real lawyers).
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 16:01

Generally speaking only the copyright holder can instigate legal action in these kinds of circumstances, since they're the party whose license is being violated. So it's not up to you to enforce the license, all you can do is inform the copyright holder about the violation, try to convince the violator, and (as a last resort) communicate more widely about the violation.

Bradley M. Kuhn has a great blog post on GPL enforcement which you'd probably find relevant.


You may have a couple of options

The first, as mentioned elsewhere, is to approach the authors of the open source software at issue, and get them to initiate an Intellectual Property suit. They are the only ones who can do this.

Beyond that, there seem to be a number of License Enforcement bodies who are acting on behalf of open source projects.

One example is the Software Freedom Conservancy. Their model implies that they act on behalf of member projects to defend their rights. So it would behoove you to determine if the project at issue resides under the roof of one of these organizations.

The FSF has a clear and detailed page listing the steps to take if you suspect a violation. If the copyleft license is one of theirs, and they own the copyright, they say they will take action.

I would have thought that the groups who create the licenses (FSF, Apache, OSI, etc) would have an interest in helping enforce them generally. It seems it should work a little like trademark law: if you don't protect your trademark, you lose it. In the case of the FSF, for example, if they allow GPL violations to stand simply because they don't hold the copyright on a particular piece of code, then they weaken their license.


Yes there is. Legally challenge them in the courts and force them to back down.

Somehow, I suspect this is not the answer you are looking for (reference not intended).

Really, the only non-legal thing you can do is communication: send numerous emails. Always be polite, and start out by realising that they might not be doing it deliberately. So, if you haven't already, point out that he's licensed his product under X, which requires the source code to be made available.

You can also ask other interested people to do the same: get your friends and fellow Romans developers to email him as well, pointing out the same thing.

Beyond that, you go to elevating the issue to higher authority. Report it to the hosting platform: although they may not be able to do anything legally or force him to provide the code, they are a greater authority than you (and many TOSes say they can delete your stuff at any time for any reason).

Last resort is of course, legal challenges. If you really want to go that far.


Without knowing what license we're talking about we can't conclude yet that that person is necessarily infringing.

Take GPL, for example: the person is not obliged to give you the software no matter how much you ask. Unless, of course, if he/she already gave you part of the software but is not willing to give you all of it (therefore keeping you from freely using, modifying or redistributing that software in the manner that the copyleft clause entitles you to).

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