I've found a project on Github that I'm interested in contributing to which claims to be open source and has a GPL license included with it.

But the original author has added a copyright notification to each source file. I'm not sure why but I don't feel right contributing to a project that's always going to have someone else's name on it. It really breaks the community-created feel, and makes me uneasy about what the author might choose to do with the project next.

What are the implications of copyrighting open source GPL code as so? What power does this give the original author over a contributor?

# Copyright (C) 2012, 2013 __AUTHORNAME__
# This file is part of __PROJECTNAME__.
# __PROJECTNAME__ is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
# it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
# the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
# (at your option) any later version.
# __PROJECTNAME__ is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
# but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
# GNU General Public License for more details.
# You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
  • 14
    It is copyright that allows the GPL to be enforced. Only the copyright holder can sue or demand enforcement of the GPL if the license is violated. Others have no standing. This is part of why many projects demand assignment of copyright.
    – user40980
    Jun 28, 2013 at 5:26
  • 3
    Not only is it a requirement for the GPL, but it's also extremely common practice even among permissively licensed projects. For example, the common language of all BSD licenses assumes an "above copyright notice" that must be preserved in all redistributions. If you want a practical example of this, visit chrome://credits/ in the Chrome or Chromium browser -- I certainly don't think that those dozens of copyright notices "break the community-created feel"; I think it promotes it.
    – apsillers
    Jun 28, 2013 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


It is actually a requirement of the GPL license to put such a copyright statement in your source files (see here).

One point that is common among all copyright licenses is that you can't claim authorship for something you didn't write. This isn't always explicitly written down for contributions to a project, but if you contribute a significant piece of code, then you have the right to be named as co-author of the software.

Being named as co-author means that you have agreed to release the software under the stated license conditions (e.g. GPL). But it also means that the original author can't change the license conditions without your consent.

Being named as the (co-)author of the software also gives you the power to enforce the license and to bring copyright violations to justice. If people break the conditions of your GPL software, then it is your rights that get violated in the eyes of the law, not mine, even if you use a license that gives me a lot of rights.

Because of both points above, there are a number of organisations (among whom the FSF, who own the GNU software) that require you to sign over your copyrights to them.

  • 7
    +1 Also in some jurisdictions code must be copyrighted by someone. They don't recognise the concept of "public domain". So the copyright must belong to someone, but that person grants permission to others through the license.
    – MarkJ
    Jun 28, 2013 at 10:13

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