If I receive source code under the Apache License 2.0 and intent to redistribute it to a third party, do I have to do so under the same terms? It seems at first glance that I can sublicense it under more permissive terms.

The license states only the following conditions under Redistribution:

(a) You must give any other recipients of the Work or Derivative Works a copy of this License; and

(b) You must cause any modified files to carry prominent notices stating that You changed the files; and

(c) You must retain, in the Source form of any Derivative Works that You distribute, all copyright, patent, trademark, and attribution notices from the Source form of the Work, excluding those notices that do not pertain to any part of the Derivative Works; and

(d) [Handling of NOTICE text file]

So I must retain the copyright notices etc. and must provide the third party with a copy of the Apache License. But where is stated that – in the license between the third party and myself – I must require them to adhere to the Apache License?

It seems I could follow the Apache License and include all the neccessary words with my source code, but be much more permissive in the license I actually give to the receipient of the source.

Note I don't neccessarily think this is the case, but I would like to understand exactly what terms allow the Apache License to propagate.

  • How "much more permissive" could you be? The AL places nearly no obligations on you as it is.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 3, 2019 at 15:53

1 Answer 1


But where is stated that – in the license between the third party and myself – I must require them to adhere to the Apache License?

The original copyright holder offered certain permissions to modify and reproduce their work. Since you are not the copyright holder, you can't modify those permissions: you can't offer a different copyright license for work to which you don't hold the copyright. Generally, no modification or redistribution of the copyrighted work is allowed at all, except in the ways that have been allowed by the copyright holder, and you do not have the authority to present different allowances to another person. (If you modify the work with your own copyrighted contribution, you may license that new part in way that doesn't conflict with the Apache license present on the original part.)

Strictly speaking, it's not your responsibility to ensure the downstream recipients follow the terms of the copyright holder's license grant. If the downstream recipients don't meet the requirements of the license, you are not liable for their decision, nor can you bring legal action against them (only the copyright holder can do that). However, it is your responsibility to make sure the downstream recipients are aware of the license terms, though, per the requirements you quoted.

If you comply with those requirements to preserve notices and include license documents, but then also say something like, "But ignore that legal mumbo jumbo and just use this other person's copyrighted work however you (or I) please," then that's certainly not allowed. I'm not a lawyer, but possibly you'd be liable for either contributory infringement (for encouraging the recipient to commit copyright infringement). If the downstream recipient acted on such an erroneous statement from you and was sued by the copyright holder, I speculate they could possibly (or possibly not) win a lawsuit against you for having misled them about what they were allowed to do with the copyright holder's work.

  • Thanks for the answer! My problem is that, as far as I know, sticking a license to source code is a kind of legal fiction. What actually happens is you have a contract between a licensor and a licensee. In the case of open source, the licensee implicitly accepts the license by using the code. But this means that there is no contract between the copyright holder and the downstream recipient. That's why other licenses (CC, GPL) have explicit "share-alike" clauses. Is this implied in US law? Or is it implied in the phrase " You must retain [...] copyright notices"?
    – jdm
    Jan 1, 2019 at 9:04
  • @jdm The important consideration is: suppose author Alice gives software to Bob under the APL, and Bob passes it on to Charlie, and Charlie to Dana. If Alice says, "Hey! I said Bob could exercise rights under the APL, but I didn't say Charlie could do that!" and sues Charlie, what would Charlie's legal defense look like? I'm not a lawyer, so I don't really know, but I'd guess it would rely on Alice's requirement that Bob preserve her permissions notices in the downstream distribution to Charlie. Charlie has received -- at Alice's explicit request -- a list of copyright permissions in the APL.
    – apsillers
    Jan 4, 2019 at 19:54

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