My co-founder recently left my startup, and it has ended on bad terms. We have a piece of software on GitHub under Apache 2.0 licence, and I have revoked his access to the repository.

Can I continue building and using this piece of software commercially? Do I need his permission? Can I just fork it and continue safely?

  • 1
    Who is the copyright holder to the project's code? The startup company itself, or the individual contributors? And if the latter, did you have some kind of CLA in place?
    – MadHatter
    Nov 12, 2018 at 8:53
  • There is no company formed yet, so individuals hold the copyright. We didn't have any CLA. Just the LICENCE.txt in the repository. You can see the repo here github.com/MetroPlatform/Metro-BrowserExtension
    – Rory Byrne
    Nov 12, 2018 at 9:08

2 Answers 2


IANAL/IANYL. That said, you two have made this code available to the world under Apache 2, and it is generally held that licence grants are irrevocable once they have been relied on.

I would not do anything further under the existing repo. I would fork that repo as soon as possible - the forking being a clear point at which you're relying on your co-contributor's licence grant - and continue work on the forked project. You don't need to change the name, but it would be helpful to avoid confusion for end-users if you were to do so.

Your co-contributor might well insist on having his/her code removed from the original repository, and indeed it might be simpler to delete it. But it seems to me that (s)he can't insist on his/her code being removed from the fork (though you should be punctilious about preserving his/her copyright notices, as good manners, intellectual honesty, and the Apache licence require).

  • Okay, that's a good starting point thank you. I'll be consulting a legal professional about this in the future to be sure. If I have already contributed more work to the original repo since my co-founder left, should I fork from the last "shared" commit?
    – Rory Byrne
    Nov 12, 2018 at 11:44
  • If you're happy with this answer, you're welcome, and feel free to accept it. Taking proper legal advice is always a good idea. And if your co-contributor has not yet expressed any desire to have his/her code removed, I don't think it matters when you fork from.
    – MadHatter
    Nov 12, 2018 at 12:40

Worse case scenario

Your co-founder succeeds in releaving you of your copyright. Now you are not the copyright holder. You are just a licensee of the software. You can still fork the code, and continue to contribute. After a while you will be a dominant copyright holder.

In any case. If your co-founder also forks, there will be two projects.

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