Let's say we have a company and we release our project under LGPL && GPLv3, as you know the only thing here is about contribution. People commit bug-fixes/features to the project, it's fine and we are GPL fans.

Basically company makes money by this project. So what about contributors ? I know they commit code and software get better and it is actual repay to them, But how we can get contributors assign copyright for copyright holder?

2 Answers 2


In general, when an open source projects receives contributions from others because implicitly the contributor in contributing with the same license as that of project. This is true for most open source licenses single or dual. In this situation whether copyright of incremental work lies with project owner or the external contributor, everyone still has access to code.

However, the real question is what if the project has two licenses one open source and commercial? This is a problem because if an external contributor submits a patch that patch is not automatically ok that same patch gets redistributed to your customer automatically.

However, there are many successful projects, such as QT and MySQL, which have been available as open source as well as for commercial purposes. Read this: http://www.dina.kvl.dk/~abraham/rants/license.html

For example, what MySQL does is that it has what is called Sun Contributing License. Read this, http://forge.mysql.com/wiki/ContributingFAQ which says,

Contributors are required to sign the Sun Contributor Agreement (SCA) when contributing code to Sun/MySQL

Sameway, QT also makes it clear that

Contributing Code Not Owned by the Contributor

Read this: http://qt-project.org/legal.html

Of course, there is a possibility that given this condition, some people may not contribute back. However, that's only fair. But both these projects goes at great depth why contributor still gets benefited by contributing back.

  • +1. Assigning copyright is important if you want to offer commercial licenses. Otherwise it may not be necessary.
    – MarkJ
    Feb 25, 2012 at 10:45
  • As additional info, you can also check hof the Free Software Foundation handles contributions to GCC (gcc.gnu.org/contribute.html), which also require assignment of copyright. Dec 26, 2012 at 15:18

Make it a condition of the code being included in the project, ideally as part of the software license.

There are a number of software licenses that do this; for example, in the Mozilla Public License:

Each Contributor hereby grants You a world-wide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license:

a.under intellectual property rights (other than patent or trademark) Licensable by such Contributor to use, reproduce, make available, modify, display, perform, distribute, and otherwise exploit its Contributions, either on an unmodified basis, with Modifications, or as part of a Larger Work; and

b.under Patent Claims of such Contributor to make, use, sell, offer for sale, have made, import, and otherwise transfer either its Contributions or its Contributor Version.

The GPL, in particular, requires that all contributions made to a GPL project be licensed under the terms of the GPL. So you shouldn't have to do anything else, other than make it clear to the contributors that this is the arrangement.

If you believe that some contributors may insist on retaining some or all rights to their code, simply have them sign a statement that indicates they are assigning copyright to your company; specifically, that it is a work for hire. Make it a condition of them getting paid for the code. Note that, in most jurisdictions (at least in the United States), if they are employees, you should already own the code.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Treat this information accordingly.

  • 1
    Then have them sign away their rights to the code. Simple. Feb 24, 2012 at 0:41
  • 1
    I would do it on paper. Click-through agreements are not always enforceable, especially after-the-fact. Feb 24, 2012 at 0:46
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    If you want rights to the code, yes. Feb 24, 2012 at 0:53
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    I don't know; I'm not a lawyer. :) Feb 24, 2012 at 0:55
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    Informative answer but the question is "how we can get contributors assign copyright". MPL requires contributors to grant a licence but not to assign copyright. Of course this may not matter, it depends what the OP wants to do. E.g. if they want to offer dual licences.
    – MarkJ
    Feb 25, 2012 at 10:43

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