I have identified a couple of open source projects on github.com that are not being kept up to date for many months. I have used them for personal use, and now want to make enhancements to them and start maintaining the code base and write sample clients that use these projects. I've sent pull requests to the authors and also followed up with emails via their personal / technical website contact page, with no responses from either 1 of them.

I know that I can fork a project on github and be on my way. What I would like to know is

  1. If I Fork an open source project and make improvements in the fork, will it or I offend the original authors? Meaning, could the original authors get upset down the line if my version of the project becomes popular and their version (the ones they are not maintaining or accepting pull requests actively) wanes in usage and popularity. A similar situation would be how Wordpress was forked from B2 and I think initially Mat Mullenweg and original B2 author had some difference of opinion / annoyances.

  2. Are there any licensing issues and copyright issues that I should be aware of? At present, the license.MD for both Projects says Apache License Version 2.0, January 2004 http://www.apache.org/licenses/


Eric Raymond wrote a thoughtful piece about this at one time. The important point I think is

  1. When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor.

Basically, will you offend them? It really depends on the them. What would be good to do is to contact the developer and ask what she or he would thinks or prefers. Maybe that developer will say, why don't I make you a/the maintainer of the project, or maybe the developer will say, oh I thought no one cared, why don't you send me some pull requests and I'll push up some updates I have locally, or maybe the developer will say !#@$@ in which case yeah go ahead and fork it.

Of course you must absolutely follow the terms of the license (which have some interestting twists but it's an osi approved license so it's okay to fork) and make sure you understand what they are.

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  • Upvoting for the excellent quote. I've passed off a few projects before because I believe it's important to put abandoned projects in the hands of the stakeholders most capable of continuing the legacy. My silly Warcraft 3 mod Vampirism Beast was one such project and I'm incredibly proud of the work my successors did over the next year along with the awesome community. I think I would have felt regret if I let it simply die. – M2tM Dec 26 '13 at 23:07

License wise, unless you are making really major changes and have a really strong opinion on the license that you want to distribute those under, you should keep to the original license of the project you fork from. The code you copied must remain under that license anyway, so using a separate license for your changes is mostly a lot of additional hassle.

As for the possibility of the original maintainers becoming offended, unless you are making changes that could easily be seen as morally wrong, you should not worry about it. If they become offended, it is likely to have one of two causes, none of which you can do anything about: 1. They regret they made a wrong choice in not working with you, or 2. You took the project in a direction that went against one of their principles.

Legally, you have the right to fork the projects, so the original maintainers can't do anything about that. At most, they can make you change the name under which you provide your version.

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  • Actually, license-wise you're probably obligated to stick with the license for the code that you didn't directly write yourself. The right to set a license is very strongly coupled in law to being the copyright holder. – Donal Fellows Dec 26 '13 at 18:06

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