As the original author (and copyright holder of source code) of code which I have chosen to release as GPL. I think I am correct in saying I can dual license my code and thus choose to enforce one lic or the other as I see fit (please correct me if I am wrong here)?

How would this work if I accept downstream contributions from other developers into my project. From the downstream perspective, the upstream contribution was made under the assumption that they were contributing to a GPL code base?... So would I have the right to distribute this 'contributed code' under my original dual license (i.e the other non GPL lic that I use in my dual licensing), I presume that I would have to get permission of the downstream author to lic their code in a non GPL way? So does this mean I have to enforce this by indicating I reserve the right to distribute contributed code under a dual lic (or more importantly non GPL) to contributing authors as the process of accepting their code into my project?

If an author does not want to agree to that (understandable), I presume this means that they cannot contribute upstream, however if they fork my repo (which is GPL) they can contribute so my dual licensing is redundant?

1 Answer 1


If you accepted contributions from third parties, their contributions belong to them and you can't change licensing terms on them. They might not even have made their contributions legally available at all...

That is why most projects insist on some sort of agreement that any contributions are (a) legal to make (i.e., no code pilfered from a third party, no patent encumbrance, ...), (b) given to the project to distribute under the project's license. Some (for example the FSF) insist further that any copyrights be donated to them, so they are sole owners of the result, and can decide to e.g. change licenses (and have legal standing to sue for infringements).

  • 4
    There is also a category that request a CLA (Contributor License Agreement) that does not sign over copyright to the project, but does give them the right to distribute the contribution under several licenses. Mar 12, 2020 at 9:54
  • @BartvanIngenSchenau AFAIK, Copyright is non-transferable in some juridictions anyway, so the CLA is more about giving the right to re-license the contribution.
    – phk
    Oct 12, 2020 at 11:09

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