Many of the larger open source projects receive serious backing from one or more Corporate sponsors.

Depending on CLA's and the license chosen, if contributions were made by engineers during their working hours (i.e. as part of their job) the copyright on those corporations belongs to their employers, not the individuals. The individuals might not even have the legal authority to assign the copyright via a CLA.

A similar question deals with accessing and forking the original source code. But this situation is slightly different.

In addition to complications over the copyright (perhaps another company purchases the assets of the failed one), the loss of the sponsor might also imply the loss of

  • Extensive web infrastructure for hosting, distribution, and support
  • A large pool of contributors who are no longer being paid to contribute
  • Some large users, who perhaps had commercial support agreements, or simply lose confidence in the project once its backers depart.

So what happens to a large, popular OS project when its major corporate sponsor goes bust, taking all the above with it?

  • This means that the project gets abandoned by the original developing company, so this question appears to be a duplicate of Are you legally allowed to use abandoned projects?
    – Philipp
    Jun 29, 2015 at 19:04
  • @philipp Edited to address the differences
    – kdopen
    Jun 29, 2015 at 19:12
  • This seems like a question for the Magic 8-Ball. Any number of things might happen.
    – Air
    Jul 1, 2015 at 23:34

1 Answer 1


This situation is one major strong point in comparison to closed source software. While nobody can claim the copyright anymore and therefore the license must be kept unchanged, the software can still be maintained and developed, as this is one basic right gained through open source. It may even happen the same developers work on it.

It isn't exactly the same, but as Ulf Michael Widenius (the original developer of MySQL) became unhappy with the development of MySQL he forked the software and still develops the fork as MariaDB. The same can happen if the copyright-holder ceases functioning, a fork still is possible. It may be needed to change project-name though (depending on the license).

There still may be some disruption from the changes and it isn't guaranteed a new development team will form to keep developing the software. Also the missing money from the corporate developer may lead to smaller development. But the Software survives and can be still maintained.

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