I have a question: this week I found a older project I contributed to, released under GPL/GNUv2. I found back the project by googling my name, thus I found my copyright notice inside the distribution's file.

At the time of the contribution my name wasn't really known for that project, as such I never get contacted for any release or any news.

My question is: if the project did a rewrite of my module, aka a new version but rewritten, can I ask for a basic attribution? My goal isn't to get my hand on the files, but to see a simple thank you as a attribution would be nice.

To have the context: my module used to add a flood protection service inside an IRC service daemon. The module was a new feature, and the new rewritten code included that module as a feature too, with the same file name in an example (but the code rewriting is major).

My question could be stated too as: at which point does the code rewrite nullify my attribution?

  • Does the rewrite include your contributed code? The fact that it has the same file name, or the fact that it is a similar feature (flood protection for IRC) does not necessarily mean it includes your code.
    – Brandin
    Mar 29 '19 at 6:06
  • @Brandin I didnt analysed it, but your point is, I can take any GPLv2 software out there and rewrite some part of it, and skip all the attributions ? I have that line in mind; You may convey a work based on the Program, or the modifications to produce it from the Program Based on the program mean what there ? Technically speaking, the feature would had not been there if it wasnt in the first version, in my vision it was based off my work, but I might be wrong
    – yagmoth555
    Mar 29 '19 at 12:21
  • It depends on the details -- If the "rewrite" is actually based on your work, then yes, the rewritten version must follow your original license and requirements (GPL). However, if the new version is actually a completely new module that happens to have the same file name, and it was not written by using your code as a basis, then no, that would be an original work.
    – Brandin
    Mar 29 '19 at 13:21
  • @Brandin Yeah I understand, but who know if he used my base for the module or not, no one except the dev know, as such it's a loose ends.
    – yagmoth555
    Mar 29 '19 at 16:25
  • In that case you'd have to look at the evidence and see what is more likely to be the case. If he wrote it from scratch and it just happens to be similar in some ways, then that is one thing. But if he clearly derived numerous things from yours, then that is another. Unfortunately there is no definitive answer here; you'd have to make a judgment either way. Or go to a judge and present your arguments to get a ruling if you suspect copyright infringement or breach of license.
    – Brandin
    Mar 30 '19 at 9:05

There are two aspects to this question: what is legally required, and what is the right thing to do?

You as the author of some software have the legal right to be recognized as the author. These “moral rights” are a part of copyright, but their strength varies drastically between countries.

When the software was rewritten, you might still be an author, or you might not. The question is whether the rewrite was a derivative work of your software in the sense of copyright. If the rewrite was derivative, then you should still be credited as a copyright holder. If the rewrite was a completely independent implementation of a software with similar functionality of yours, that is not derivative, you are not a copyright holder, and you have no right to be recognized as an author of that software.

The GPL doesn't really change this – unless the GPL version in question were the GPLv3 and you had made use of the section 7 additional terms mechanism (e.g. (b) “requiring preservation of […] author attributions”). Since that cannot be done retroactively and the project in question is GPLv2, this doesn't apply.

For an open source project, it would still be the right thing to do to credit all contributors, regardless of whether they are copyright holders in the current version. After all, not every project contribution results in copyrighted works: debugging help, small fixes, administrative work, helping users, outreach, …

The right place for such credits wouldn't be a copyright notice but a section in the documentation. Some projects credit the contributors to a version in the release notes. However, it would be extremely odd to later remove attributions.

While I (as a project maintainer) believe such attribution is the right thing to do because it fosters the community around the project, you (as a contributor) don't have a right to it. Opening an issue “please thank me” would be a very bad look.

  • Thanks for your answer, you are right that my first reflex was more to look in the contributor file to see if I was listed, more than in the actual copyright in the file. It's just odd to see my code while googling, and after to see the new version.
    – yagmoth555
    Mar 29 '19 at 14:48

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