Is there a recommended copyright (eg as BSD is to licensing) agreement type of template that could be used or altered for collaborative software work?

I aim to start a collaborative work that would potentially be non-open-source, but would like to ensure that all parties feel their work is protected and that all shared work is fairly benefited from.

I know there are documents out there, generally in the open source arena, for licensing or copyright of works; such as BSD, GPL.

Are there any of these already in existence that will apply to such a situation? (Please don't hate me if there are and its blindingly obvious! I know very little about such stuff ATM).

Are there known templates for such an agreement?

Or would a custom document be better?


EDIT: I guess that as a portion of the work will be idea generation the agreement may need to include patent matters, or the like, and possibly non-disclosure terms as well?

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    This is an important question, and one that can be difficult to answer. You need to have a clear vision of how you (your group) want to share this project, and then you have to Do Your Homework. MIT is similar-but-different from BSD, BSD is very different from GPLv2, which is, in turn, very different (at least in some respects) from GPLv3. Note that changing your license at some point in the future can be difficult once there are more than a small number of developers involved. Good Luck! Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 22:28

1 Answer 1


The problem starts with identifying who gets the rights. For open source it is easy—everybody. But if you want to restrict it, you need to identify the members somehow.

Having everybody grant rights to everybody else in the group is impractical, because everybody would have to update it when new members join the group and if some of the original members left (or worse, died), it won't be possible any more.

So you need a juristic person—corporation, association, foundation…, something. Then granting the rights becomes easy—the members simply sign that they grant exclusive rights for given works to the organization. And the hard part becomes defining how the organization accepts new members, how members leave it and how it decides which third parties it will sublicense the work.

Which is not something for which there can be a template, but organizational bylaws are usually public, so you might be able to find bylaws of organizations with similar issues for inspiration.

  • Interesting info @JanHudec. Can you suggest any organizations that have available bylaws that I can start searching from? Ta!
    – Toby
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 9:20
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    @Toby: No, sorry. Besides, I am almost certainly in different jurisdiction and you need something in yours. Perhaps try looking for some software or research foundations; they may be having similar legal problems.
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 11:29
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    @Toby: There will also likely exist quite a bit of general advice for voluntary associations (or whatever the basic type of non-profit is) which will deal with the membership and governance parts, so you only need to decide whom you grant the right to sublicense the managed works for third parties.
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 11:33

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