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I just received a notification about the following issue from a project I contributed in the past: Can it be a open source project? (Since the source code is already open, I think the title should be Can it be a free software project?)

I was surprised by the following paragraph:

By this project being on Github, I am allowed to fork it by the Github TOS (Terms Of Service). However I am not allowed to create derivative works from it (pull requests). Meaning I cannot fork this repository, change its code and perform pull requests without the danger/liability of being prosecuted by violating the All rights reserved copyright granted by berne convention law.

This reads quite concerning. Does this mean:

  • if someone creates an open source repository on Github without license information,
  • and I blindly contribute by forking, modifying and creating a pull request

... does this mean, I am violating copyright? I'm mainly confused about the all rights reserved copyright granted by the berne convention law, what does this exactly mean in this case?

marked as duplicate by curiousdannii, Glenn Randers-Pehrson, RubberDuck, Mureinik, Community Jul 14 '17 at 12:36

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    Yes, that's exactly what it means. To use a file system metaphor: just because someone gives you read-access to their copyrighted work, that doesn't mean they've automatically given you write-access as well. (Okay, it's not a perfect metaphor, but the point is that all rights to a copyrighted work can be licensed or reserved independently to one another; all rights not licensed are reserved.) Whether or not the copyright holder will choose take action against you for this technical violation is another matter entirely and depends on what they hoped to achieve by writing and sharing their code. – apsillers Jul 13 '17 at 12:27
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    Side note about "open source" vs. "free software": If we use the commonly accepted definition of "open source", software is not open source as soon as its source code is published. Thus the issue title is fine as it is. Both terms refer to a definition and a list of approved licenses. If you want to say that a software has published its source code (but not given any further rights), use the term "source available" or something like that. – unor Jul 13 '17 at 16:34