I'm working on reviving a C++ codebase that hasn't been touched since '97.

It's academic software for text analysis, and originally it was non-functional, it wouldn't even compile.

I fixed the code so that it works, and added some new functionality of my own.

I'm doing this privately for someone else, and they will pay me over a student contract. I signed nothing with them, so ultimately, my work belongs to me. Given that they agree (I don't want to be rude), would I be able to relicense this code under GPL, and post it on a site like GitHub?

The current license is as follows:

Copyright (C) 1997, Carnegie Mellon University. All rights reserved. This software is made available for research purposes only. It may be redistributed freely for this purpose, in full or in part, provided that this entire copyright notice is included on any copies of this software and applications and derivations thereof.

This software is provided on an "as is" basis, without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, as to any matter including, but not limited to warranty of fitness of purpose, or merchantability, or results obtained from use of this software.

Seems like I would have to include that notice as well.

  • 6
    "made available for research purposes only": My feeling tells me that this isn't very compatible with the idea of open-source software, or the GPL. Unless you define every possible future use of that software's source code as "research".
    – stakx
    Aug 19, 2013 at 9:29
  • 5
    Your work belongs to you, perhaps, but the original code belongs to them (Carnegie Mellon University). If they agree to re-licence it, then it can be done. If not, it can't.
    – TZHX
    Aug 19, 2013 at 9:35
  • @stakx That's the answer. +1 Aug 19, 2013 at 11:02
  • The original license applies to your work. You can redistributed the source code provide the orignal license applies to the code.
    – Ramhound
    Aug 19, 2013 at 12:18
  • If you're getting paid to perform the work, unless otherwise agreed, it's considered work for hire & the person paying you becomes the owner. Aug 19, 2013 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


IANAL! The License of the code is incompatible with the provisions of the GPL, so you cannot put the GPL on it.

Or rather you can put the GPL on your code but users would still be bound by the stricter provisions of the original License, making the legal situation a real mess.

The only option if you want to relicense the code is to get permission from the original authors of the code (in writing).


No, you can not distribute your revived version of the project under the GPL license.

The current license does not grant you the right to re-license or sub-license the code, which means that the original code must remain under this license.

Your own code, you can copyright with any license you like, but the GPL has the condition in it that its conditions must apply to the entire software. One of the conditions of the GPL is that you can't restrict who can use the software. As the original license does have such a restriction, it is incompatible with the GPL. The result is that you can not distribute a codebase that uses both licenses for parts of it.

The only way out of this is to contact the copyright holders of the original code and ask them if they are willing to release a version that is under a more permissive license.

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