I want to create a fork of an opensource project. I'm planning to make significant changes to it and I will keep these changes on a git(hub) repository that is available to anyone. As such changes and a list of all contributors will be clearly visible to anyone. I will also link to this repository in the readme.

I will keep the original copyright in the README obviously but my question is more: Is this way of tracking changes okay?

Because I don't really want to have to keep track of every single change I make to each individual source file manually (there would eventually be so many changes that some files would have more changes than code!).

  • Will you state somewhere that you modified it, with a relevant date, without the user having to dig through the git history? See the GPL v3 5.a requirement. "The work must carry prominent notices stating that you modified it, and giving a relevant date."
    – Brandin
    Dec 13, 2018 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


As far as I can tell, the GPL does not require you to indicate what specific changes you make to a GPL-licensed work. The GPLv3 says

The work must carry prominent notices stating that you modified it, and giving a relevant date.

And the GPLv2 says:

You must cause the modified files to carry prominent notices stating that you changed the files and the date of any change.

I'm not a lawyer, but the language here seems to require only a positive affirmation that modification did occur, acommpanied by data about when and by whom the modification was done. I don't read any suggestion that such a modification-notice mu.st detail the kinds of changes performed. I don't know of any case law about this, and I doubt there is any, since I would not expect an author of GPL'd work to follow through on a lawsuit about downstream modification messages not being specific enough.

As I read this requirement, it can be satisfied by a per-file statement like, "This file was modified by Jane Doe in 2018." In fact, this is essentially what a copyright notice ("Copyright 2018 Jane Doe") is, which the FSF encourages you to add to your file headers anyway. I suspect many people who modify GPL-licensed software forgo an explicit modification notice and directly rely on a copyright notice to satisfy the modification-notice requirement. (However, I cannot advise whether or not this is legally rigorous thing to do.)

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