I have a GitHub repository which its license is GPL. Although of this, in the "about" window of my program, I mentioned that I own the copyright (like this: © My name, 2017). And I added the GPL text too there.

However, if a contributor sends me a pull request via GitHub and I accept it, does that mean he's now qualified to be a copyright holder? Can he also put his name like (© His name, 2017)? What are the legal consequences of this? Isn't ok to just list his name in the authors list of the program, instead of saying "copyright ©: someone.."?

  • 2
    @curiousdannii: I don’t think these should be duplicates. The linked question is about whether contributions are licensed under the project’s license automatically. -- This question is about whether contributors can request getting listed as copyright holder in the project’s copyright statement (i.e., not in source code files, but on an About window, on the website or similar).
    – unor
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:14
  • It depends on YOUR patch acceptance policy. IIRC one of the big issues for MySQL is that while it is Freely licensed, Sun will only accept patches, etc. if you assign copyright of whatever you are submitting to them. So they own all of the copyright in it. Which is why mariadb was forked when this policy came into effect.
    – ivanivan
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 12:41
  • 1
    If you want to avoid sharing copyright and retain the right to relicense your project, you could force contributors to sign a CLA(Contributor License Agreement) specifying that the copyright for their contribution is transferred to you. It's incredibly rude and you shouldn't require people to sign a CLA, but some companies like famously Canonical do it anyway. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contributor_License_Agreement Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 14:28
  • The contributor has copyright only to his changes, not to the whole program. And you don't have copyright to his changes. The whole program becomes derivative work. Some parts of it (original code) are copyrighted by you and some parts of it (his changes) are copyrighted by him. See my answer for details. The license of contributions is usually unclear unless it is explicitly specified.
    – anton_rh
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


The common understanding is to consider that contributions are made under the same license as the project these are contributed to (unless stated otherwise).

On GitHub, this is made explicit in the terms of service:

Whenever you make a contribution to a repository containing notice of a license, you license your contribution under the same terms, and you agree that you have the right to license your contribution under those terms. If you have a separate agreement to license your contributions under different terms, such as a contributor license agreement, that agreement will supersede.

Isn't this just how it works already? Yep. This is widely accepted as the norm in the open-source community; it's commonly referred to by the shorthand "inbound=outbound". We're just making it explicit.

When you accept a contribution, two things happen: 1. the contribution is under the existing project license 2. the copyright of this contribution is that of the contributor.

Therefore the copyright of the codebase as a whole is now shared between you and the contributor. (Though in practice there may be subtle things that have a legal meaning: for instance if I contribute a one-character typo fix, I do not have much a copyright ownership if any).

You can therefore either add the copyright of these authors or keep an authors file as you see fit to document this. A common practice is to use a "Copyright (c) the XXX authors" (or contributors) and list authors or not separately.

Now even though this documentation may have some legal meaning, even if not present the shared copyright is still there nonetheless.

  • Related question, Philippe, if you please. I have several open-source, gpl-licensed projects on my website (see profile for url), but not on github or any other repository. And that license info as well as my copyright are very clearly documented in a large comment block at the top of each source file, as well as the usual COPYING file in every .zip distribution. Moreover, I've registered each copyright at eco.copyright.gov So if somebody downloads, modifies, and re-releases one of these projects, completely independently of and unbeknownst to me, what are their copyright (not license) rights? Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 2:27
  • 1
    @JohnForkosh: do you mind creating a new question for this? I will reply there. The gist of it is that these re-releases would be subject to the GPL and the authors of the mods may have some copyright rights in their modifications. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 11:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.