So I need a bootloader for an avr chip and after some research, I selected this one.


OpenSource, base on GPL license.

It needed minor modifications to compile without the dedicated AvrStudio. Namely:

  • conformance to c99
  • writing a makefile
  • custom configuration for my PCB and chip.

I would like to push the modified project to GitHub, mainly as means to archive it in case of hard disk failure. The bootloader is going to be a part of my final year project, which I would like to publish as MIT/BSD/any-non-copyleft license.

The project seems to have been abandoned during 2012 and the author is not returning my emails.

After this background, my question. What is supposed to be the content of the LICENSE file, that GitHub recommends? Should I put a large "I DO NOT OWN THIS CODE", should I select a GPL version or do I have more options?

And another question. How is my project supposed to be called? Do I have the right to name it the same as the original? Do I have the right to change the name?

Related, but the original project is MIT:

Licensing on forked projects

  • Does it contain any actual license, or just the statement you quoted?
    – user82096
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:13

3 Answers 3


If you fork a GPL project, you need to keep the same GPL license (unless the original copyright owner gives you permission to change it).

BTW, I strongly suggest to contact and interact with the original authors of the project. They will probably be happy of you working on their code (and they could help you, maybe give you permission for relicensing, etc...).

Regarding naming, if you want (and I recommend that) to fork the original repository on GitHub, you'll keep the same name.

I would suggest to keep the same name anyway, or at least to have a similar name.

  • It's a .zip archive of the source, no source control. I used the word "fork" because I am beginning from this code and adding my modifications.
    – Vorac
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:51
  • But still, I strongly suggest to contact the original authors. They would probably be very pleased and helpful. Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:53
  • "and the author is not returning my emails." Maybe the guy changed his email.
    – Vorac
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:56
  • It appears this was the correct advice. The project, and the author's email (he was using gmail), are not updated since 2012, because "Because google can't accessable in China now, I put avrub in sourceforge.".
    – Vorac
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 7:03

I'm not sure that the single statement of "OpenSource, base on GPL license" is actually a valid license: we can say informally that a program is GPL, but it's supposed to actually include a copy of the license containing the real legal terms. The source code for this project (avrubd_src_v45.zip) doesn't seem to contain any sort of license file.

However, it sounds like the author intended to apply (some unspecified version of) the GPL to the program. That would require that any modified versions must also be distributed on the same terms.

To be really sure, you should talk to a lawyer, but it sounds to me like if it's legal to fork the program at all, the GPL is the only license you're allowed to use. You could potentially use a BSD-type license specifically for any new code that you add, but the complete program (containing the original author's code, even with modifications) has to be GPL.

  • I feared as much. It seems the best to do is publish the project under GPL, point in the README the source of the code (retaining ownership notices in source files) and keep separate from my other work, so that the rest can be MIT. Thank you.
    – Vorac
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:54

Other answers have hinted at this, but just to clarify:

You don't really have any legal right to use, develop, or redistribute the code based on the quoted statement.

A statement that the author intends to make the code open source is not enough. There needs to be an actual license that outlines what you are allowed to do. You have nothing you can point to that actually proves the author granted you rights to this code. Furthermore, the vague wording "based on GPL" leaves it unclear even what the author might actually intend.

Given the facts that the code was published on the internet and the statement of intent to make it open source, I wouldn't mind using and adapting this code for my own personal use.

However, I would not redistribute this code without a license or at least some form of written agreement from the author. Doing so probably wouldn't ever cause a problem, given the author's statement, but there is a risk. What if your version became popular and widely used? The author could have a change of heart and decide to take legal action to regain control or make some money off it. You wouldn't have a very good defense against this.

The author's seeming unconcern over licensing also makes me worry that the author may have taken someone else's code without paying proper attention to the license. If this work contains someone else's code (even if that code was released under an open source license), I think you would be at risk of redistributing it inappropriately.

Caveat: consult a lawyer for an authoritative answer.

  • Well, he doesn't answer (maybe changed his email). I wouldn't like to wait for 30 years for it to become abandonware. Otherwise, thanks for the warnings. I think I will push it under the name <original_name>-fork, with GPL license and indication it the readme where did I get the code from.
    – Vorac
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:53

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