If a personal repository with copyright/bsd license file is transferred to a github organization that consists of more than just the original copyright holder, since a group of people (the organisation) agreed on further developing that code -- what happens to the license and copyright stated in the original personal repo?

Should it be changed to

Copyright [year] Name of First Individual Developer, New Organization

or list all the individual names now? Or remove the individual's name and change it to the organization's name such that all commits etc by any of the group member's is just covered by that? Is it even allowed to change that copyright line, given that it was originally published under BSD with this copyright line?

1 Answer 1


A GitHub organization has no legal significance. Copyright does. In particular, only legal entities such as natural persons can hold copyright. So unless the GH organization is incorporated (e.g. as a non-profit), it cannot be an author.

The second problem is that agreeing to code being maintained by an organization does not transfer the copyright to that organization. The BSD license is sufficient to allow the org to do maintenance. It would therefore be fraudulent to remove a copyright holder.

For a similar reason, you shouldn't just add people to the file header just because they are in the same “organization”. If they have no (shared) copyright on that file, they should not be listed there. Instead, they can add their names when they contribute a non-trivial change to that file.

However, these license and copyright headers are not required on a per-file basis. Instead, you could extract that to a separate license document, and list the contributors there. Or you could add a separate file that lists all contributors, and refer to that file in the copyright statement. This might be a bit easier to manage.

  • Well, that personal repository was actively being pushed to by several people already for quite some time now, i.e. most files have been modified, added to, etc by everyone involved. Now we just noticed the lingering license file which says "Copyright by ... Need to copy above statement ...". Wouldn't it be considered re-licensing, if now this loose group of individuals has modified the original code over the corse of some weeks and licensis it under the BSD but with copyright attributed to all contributors? (So we'd list all names, instead of that non-legal github orga.) Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 17:51
  • Then we could add any future contributor the same way in this file, or how would new contributors a) retain their copyright b) explicitly also apply the BSD (otherwise we wouldn't/couldn't really incorporate it in our repo ayway I guess, if the programmer holding the copyright submitting some modification/feature/bug fix wouldn't use a license that allows us to include that.) Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 17:53
  • A quite prominent and widely used example is numpy that has this kind of license file. Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 18:15

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