I have built upon software that is released under GPLv2 (with the 'at your option, a later version' addition), and am now conveying that software to my client under GPLv3. Of course, I provide the full source code with the software.

I'm also assigning the copyright of the work to the client. The client may or may not decide to publicly distribute this software.

If they don't publicly distribute the software, would I still be considered to have been 'conveyed' the software, and thus I could still make use of it in line with the license?

Or, since I assigned copyright to the client, do I also have to destroy my copies of the software and wait for them to convey it back to me (or publicly release it) before I can use the software again?

  • 1
    Ooh. Nice question. My initial intuition would be that you still have that license on the software, since by assigning copyright, that client accepts whatever happened before hand. But then I'm shaky with that - the client technically wasn't the one who provided that license, so would it still be valid? i.e. is that copyright still intact? It feels like an easy question, but it's so foggy in my mind.
    – Zizouz212
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:00
  • Haha same here, hence why I asked it! However because the original software was GPLv2, the client doesn't have an option not to copyleft it, so I would imagine they can't really invalidate the license... it's more whether I would then have been considered to have 'stolen' the code if I kept it/re-used it.
    – Tim Malone
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:12
  • But your point brings up an additional question... we don't technically assign the copyright to the client until they have paid. Before then, does that mean they have no rights to the code? I would have thought that, at least implied, the code is theirs from the start of the contractual relationship. This is probably more of a legal question.
    – Tim Malone
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:15
  • I believe that even though you reassign copyright you still have the same rights to the code as anyone else who received it under GPLv2. Whether you have access or rights to any modifications that your client makes later depends upon whether and how they release it (if they release it, they would have to release under GPL even though they own the copyright, because they have to comply with GPL). IANAL&IANYL. Jun 2, 2017 at 15:50

2 Answers 2


First of all, you can't reassign all copyright on the work. You can only reassign the copyrights that you actually own.

This means that you always keep the rights you received through the GPL on the original work.

As for the rights you have on your modifications after the reassignment of the copyright, that depends on your contract and jurisdiction. It is safest to assume that the work was not conveyed and that you don't have any rights to it until your client decides to publicly release it.


If You reassign Copyright you don't have any rights.

Look at this from a corporate perspective, a consultant or employee doesn't retain the right to code created on a "Work for Hire" basis (at least in any jurisdiction I am aware of). Of course they would be hard pressed to complain of a copy retained for reference purposes (on a work computer for the employee or contractor), but not necessarily for deployment purposes.

So ask for a personal distribution copy with the agreement that you don't distribute it within a year or something, be creative. And find out what their issues might be and address those issues.

Just don't give them any (justified or not) reasons for regretting using GPL software.

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