A French citizen has suggested that there are legal reasons why he cannot contribute to a project using the Apache 2 license.

I responded saying:

French people have contributed to such things under that license in the past and not had a problem. It's probably better to not consider work as "new" but modifications of the existing work, and just inherit the Apache2 under that consideration. If there's question, you can have me create an initial version of a file with a license, and then modify it afterward.

He said:

They do this out of ignorance or because they do not care. Yet conventional open source licenses are not usable as such by a French because of the particularity of intellectual property law. I say French but that is also true of several other European citizens in copyright countries, against copyright countries.

This is why licenses compatible with both French law and OpenSource licenses have been created.

... European citizens in author rights countries, against copyright countries. For example, something as simple as the language in which the license is written forbids me to use it. I can not sign a contract that has legal value in the eyes of the French legislator if it does not write in French.

If I override, the license will be vein [sic] and the French intellectual property right will apply and the part of the software I contributed will no longer be free.

He linked to some stuff that seems fairly abstract about the law, e.g. Wikipedia's "Copyright in France" article or a page summary of some court judgment

So he's trying to push for use of French-compatible licenses I've never heard of, e.g. CeCILL

In the "Similar Questions" box I get:

Nothing suggesting French people fundamentally can't use it. While I can find Google searches that say people are French and releasing things under Apache2, I find no support of "conventional open source licenses are not usable as such by a French".

  • He may have a point that French courts might nullify an agreement (including a license agreement) that is not written in the French language, just because it is written in a foreign language. Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 17:45
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    I am not familiar with French law. However, that person is likely confused about a multitude of things. There are differences wrt author's rights vs copyright, but they are basically irrelevant here due to modern copyright laws. While French courts will only consider French-language evidence, non-French legal documents still have effect. That is not to say that legal incompatibilities would be impossible. For example, I am in an “author's rights” country (Germany) and would not be able to contribute to Public Domain projects.
    – amon
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 18:48
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    @amon "For example, I am in an “author's rights” country (Germany) and would not be able to contribute to Public Domain projects." If this is true, then I would assume whatever this point is, is what he's referring to. Can you explain the distinction that makes Apache2 okay but public domain not? Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 1:38
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    Public domain means that you relinquish all rights; generally, countries which acknowledge the moral rights of the author do not permit them to be relinquished.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


French courts definitely don't have a problem with licences in foreign languages. Two French courts (a lower court and the court of appeal) have upheld the GPL, which is not written in French. (Yes, translations are available, but the FSF makes clear that they are for unofficial guidance only, and that only the English-language original has legal force.)

The famous debugging tool Coccinelle, which is almost entirely a French production (IRILL, Agence Nationale de la Recherche, and INRIA, amongst others), is licensed under GPLv2. So even the French government is happy to use it.

(Later edit: according to the OP, closer examination of Coccinelle has unearthed an official French government list of approved software licences, which includes Apache2 and GPLv3, thus even more emphatically settling the issue.)

As others have noted, I suspect that the person in question is confused about the issue of moral rights of the author, which indeed cannot be assigned away. Neither Apache 2 nor the GPL make any mention of these; the rights therein licensed are purely economic rights, which France permits. So this, too, should not be a problem.

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    Excellent examples! But I really came here to say: congratulations on reaching 10k! Your work is a tremendous asset to the site, your knowledge of legal scholarship is excellent, and your approach to debate is kind yet rigorous. Thanks for making this site a better place for everyone.
    – apsillers
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 15:38
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    @apsillers I'm really touched - thank you so much. In return, I'd like to note that you got that diamond slapped on you with very little warning; I think you've carried it with great aplomb, and made the site a better place as only a good moderator can. Thank you, too.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 16:53
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    Thanks for the citation on Coccinelle! That led him to a list of licenses usable by the French Government which have been in effect since April 2017. So seems all is fine (you might want to edit that list into the answer...) Commented May 1, 2019 at 2:38
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    @HostileFork done, and thank you for that - and I'm glad my answer was helpful!
    – MadHatter
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 6:52
  • Your first paragraph is entirely wrong as far as I am aware: French courts were given both the English text and the French translation (assumedly from the FSF) when cases were raised. The translation stating it's not admissible in court is void because it's not up to it to determine what is admissible or not. A party could dispute the translation (nobody did so far), that would only force to carry out a certified translation costing time and money.
    – user21444
    Commented Sep 15, 2020 at 21:59

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