I recently downloaded some source code that is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND, but contains code licensed under GPLv3 that it is dependent on. Which license am I granted the rights of?

GPLv3 states that:

You must license the entire work, as a whole, under this License to anyone who comes into possession of a copy. This License will therefore apply, along with any applicable section 7 additional terms, to the whole of the work, and all its parts, regardless of how they are packaged. This License gives no permission to license the work in any other way, but it does not invalidate such permission if you have separately received it.

Is this software therefore effectively dual-licensed, allowing me to choose between CC BY-NC-ND or GPL, even though the author does not explicitly state such?

I understand that an error here has been made by the author of the project and that they are in fact violating the original creators GPL. But what rights do I have (as the author of neither project)?

This is made particularly more confusing for me, since the project licensed under CC BY-NC-ND actually has many public contributors, myself included.

  • 2
    It sounds like "yes," but just to be completely sure: does the larger CC-licensed project actually distribute the GPL-licensed dependency as part of its distribution?
    – apsillers
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 23:37
  • 1
    @apsillers Yes, it does.
    – jTestx
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 23:39
  • 1
    For me, a pointer to the source in question would be helpful.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 11:23

2 Answers 2


The author has chosen to distribute some portion of someone else's GPL-licensed work as part of a larger work. The author has also chosen to distribute some of their own work under CC BY-NC-ND. As you might expect, this causes a GPL violation, since the author is violating the GPL by offering a derivative of the GPL code under the GPL-incompatible CC BY-NC-ND license. I don't think it invalidates the author's copyright or license grant on their own CC BY-NC-ND work (though I'm not a lawyer and copyright on unauthorized works can be surprisingly complex).

However, a GPL violation simply means that the author of the GPL-licensed code can take enforncement action (i.e., some kind of legal action to punish the author for the violation or at least halt distribution). Including GPL material does not mean that the entire project is suddenly GPL-licensed; it means that the project is supposed to be GPL-licensed as a whole, and the distributor's failure to do so is a legally-actionable GPL violation.

You and other contributors whose code is included in the distribution but who do not actually perform distribution might not be in trouble (i.e., you might be immune from legal action by the author of the GPL work, though this is not legal advice). However, you could assist the distributor by making it clear that you are open to licensing your contribution under a GPL-compatible license, so that the project can come into compliance.


Ask the project's author to correct the license.

From your description, he seems to be violating the GPL. However, that doesn't give you the right to use the project's code. Violating the GPL doesn't void the CC-BY-NC-ND license.

  • I assumed this was the case. However, in the past, they've told me that they're unable to do so because they are unable to contact other contributors who may not consent to this change... That's what lead me here!
    – jTestx
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 22:17
  • 4
    @jTestx: In the current state, they are not allowed to distribute the project. If they can't change the license, the only other option is to take it completely offline. Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 16:47

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.