I have forked a project that was released under the GPL and made substantial modifications, however there are still some parts and general ideas that are the same as upstream.

Due to user interest I am wondering how, if at all, I can relicense the project. Another developer and I have attempted to reach the upstream dev multiple times but he has never responded. Since there hasn't been updates in several years I'm considering the upstream project abandoned and looking at other options.

GNU lists Apache and Modified BSD as GPL compatible, which are 2 licenses that come up often and are less "viral" than the GPL. Since they are compatible can I Just relicense my project with either of those licenses?

If I am unable to do that, are there any options I have to change the license? It's important because there are several users who have software that is incompatible with the GPL, and therefore makes it impossible for them to adopt the project. I'm trying to avoid simply rewriting everything, which is hard since there's only a handful of good (or correct) ways to accomplish the project goals and I'd end up splitting hairs on what constitutes "derivative" code.

  • If the original project is GPL then those users can't use the original project so why are you worried about changing the license for those users? You shouldn't have to jump through hoops because those user's own projects are not GPL compatable. Even if you change the license on your fork the original license still applies to the unmodified code.
    – Ramhound
    Apr 1, 2013 at 16:53
  • @Ramhound These are new users who were wanting to use my fork. And there was interest at one time from a significantly larger project (maybe as a plugin) where changing a license is never happening. At least I have a chance to change it, but it means I'm no longer a fork and I'd most likely have to rename the project
    – TheLQ
    Apr 1, 2013 at 17:09
  • MIT and BSD allow to do a lot of things which GPL explicitly forbids, like forking it as a closed-source project. When you could fork a GPL project and turn it into a permissive FOSS license, it would be a massive loophole.
    – Philipp
    Apr 1, 2013 at 21:09

1 Answer 1


Bad news, dude.

It isn't your code. Only the owner of the code in question can relicense that code, and you are not the owner of the code in question.

You accepted the code under the terms of the GPL. You modified it, and forked it, under the terms of the GPL. You are now stuck with the terms of the GPL, and one of those terms is that you can't relicense it under some other license more to your liking.

  • So "GPL compatible" only applies to project dependencies, not to project forks?
    – TheLQ
    Apr 1, 2013 at 16:54
  • 1
    @TheLQ - it gets even worse. You not only need the original author, but anyone he took code from to agree to re-licensing. In your case you are basically stuck with the GPL. Apr 1, 2013 at 16:55
  • 10
    @TheLQ - "GPL compatible" Means you can use it in projects that use the GPL, not that you can substitute it for the GPL. Apr 1, 2013 at 16:56
  • 2
    @TheLQ: GPL-compatible means that the license doesn't forbid anything the GPL allows, so you can relicense it as GPL. But that doesn't necessarily means that it also works in the other direction.
    – Philipp
    Apr 1, 2013 at 21:12
  • 1
    To phrase Michael's first comment another way, just to make sure it is clear, you would need the permission of every contributor to the project. If I contribute to a project, I know that the terms I submitted under will not be eroded away against my wishes.
    – WarrenT
    Apr 1, 2013 at 23:01

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