This blog post claims in passing that

SQLite is illegal, at least in Germany, but potentially worldwide

This is tacked onto another mostly-unrelated claim that GitHub's terms of service are incompatible with the GPL, which we have previously discussed. This unrelated claim appears overblown to me, so I am ignoring it except to note that the author may not be a reliable source of information on open source and the law.

When I Googled "SQLite is illegal in Germany", I found this question, which does seem to assert that SQLite's public domain status may be in doubt in some countries including Germany. Hwaci apparently sells licenses (at $6,000 USD a pop!) to users in such countries, but their CLA does not appear to include any copyright assignment (it purports to dissolve copyright entirely). As a result, it's not clear to me that they actually own the copyrights they are supposedly licensing. But it might not matter, because these licenses include a warranty of title, so if Hwaci is licensing code they don't own, that's their problem.

Can SQLite be fairly described as "illegal in Germany?"

2 Answers 2


I think "illegal" is not quite the right word (but it was in a quick parenthetical, so I don't expect perfect precision). I think the intent here was that SQLite not legally safe to use in Germany, since the original copyright holders have not correctly given rights to downstream recipients according to German law.

If SQLite contributor Alice "went rogue," for example, and starting suing Bob who distributes work that includes SQLite, how successful would she be? The concern is that a German court might say, "Well, Alice only ever said that her work was 'dedicated to the public domain' but we don't recognize that as a legally meaningful phrase, so Bob was never actually granted any rights. We award judgement to Alice." I don't live in or have knowledge of this jurisdiction, so I can't begin to speculate how plausible this is in reality.

As for the concern the Hwaci might not own the copyright it is licensing: on the one hand, the SQLite licensing pages says that Hwaci is "the company that employs all the developers of SQLite" so Hwaci probably does hold the copyright (as much as they haven't been dissolved) to most of SQLite. On the other hand, however, they appear to accept outside contributions, so they likely do not have copyright for those contributions, but instead rely on the dissolution of copyright for those submissions. For jurisdictions that don't recognize that, a contributor could still prevail in suing someone for copyright infringement.

  • 4
    The successfully suing contributor seems to be somewhat unlikely, at least for the intentional contributor who deliberately submitted a change for inclusion. There is something called venire contra factum proprium in German contract law, which seems to apply here. Jul 17, 2017 at 20:49

No. It's used in e.g. Firefox, Android and Safari - all of which are used in Germany by millions.

But public domain means different things in different jurisdictions.

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