[aur-general] AUR & Copyright

Yaro Kasear yaro at marupa.net
Mon Feb 7 13:05:28 EST 2011

On Monday, February 07, 2011 11:46:08 Bernardo Barros wrote:
> 2011/2/7 Yaro Kasear <yaro at marupa.net>:
> > Sure you can change licenses if you own (Hold copyright to.) all the
> > relevant code involved.
> That's way OT, but I'm curious now... :-).

Well, it was in response to a reply in this thread a coupe days ago. It was on 
topic them... sort of.

> Then if I did a BSD code that a company used in their proprietary
> code, and then I change it to GPL, what happens then? The company will
> have to open their derivative code too?

Well, that depends. Assuming the company made no contributions to the code 
that they have copyright over, from what I understand, the upstream maintainer 
can still relicense it and the company using it is SOL for any NEW versions of 
the software. But, also, from what I understand, NOTHING legally bars the 
company from forking the last BSD version of the code and making that 
proprietary as the BSD license already allows such a thing so long as 
copyright notices remain intact.

Now, whether this would be a GOOD thing is subjective. If a lot of people 
counted on my code being open source, but none of them made any copyright-
worthy contributions to the code and it remains 100% mine, I could go from GPL 
to proprietary... but it would, frankly, be absolutely scummy. But again, they 
could fork the last GPL'd version.

From what I understand, this is part of why open source is unstoppable. A 
company can't just buy out an open source project, relicense it as proprietary 
or shut down its development, and expect it to go away. (This is why I think 
people are overreacting to Oracle a bit.)

> What I see is people releasing prior proprietary code unde GPL, but
> not from BSD to GPL.

Also, I'm not an expert, but I think a bit reason this transition is rare is 
because the general attitude of those who use the BSD license is that they 
have less of a care about what happens with their code so long as they are 
still the upstream people in charge of it. You can make proprietary software 
from BSD code, and most BSD-licensing authors don't mind. But, legally, 
nothing stops them from MAKING it GPL later so long as it is 100% their 

This is likely also aggravated by the fact that it's VERY hard to make an open 
source project WITHOUT at least two other people putting in their own code 
that, yes, they do own all by themselves.

Thus, Linus PRRROBABLY won't ever be able to relicense the Linux kernel, ever, 
as there are just way too many different copyright holders to way too many 
different bits of the Linux kernel. Even more "frustrating" to this is that 
the GPL prohibits changing to an incompatible license if other parts of the 
code are GPL, so Linus can change what he has copyright over in the kernel 
ONLY to something GPL-compatible.

It's complicated, and its messy, and its far from perfect. The GPL has some 
wonderful bits mixed with some not-so-great bits. Demanding "compatibility" in 
the GPL is one of its not-so-wonderful bits.

Keep in mind, this is how I have managed to interpret copyright law under the 
Berne Convention. You automatically have copyright on any works of your own, 
but if more than one person has copyright in the end, it's no longer just your 
decision to make decisions on the general license of the work. The great thing 
aout open source licenses, though, is that you don't have to worry about 
making changes to other people's work and sending it out to the world.

However, I did point out some time ago that just because you make changes and 
distribute doesn't mean the upstream maintainer will approve of them and use 

This is open source, an amalgam of different skills, tastes, personalities, 
and ugly code (And we all do have ugly code in some way or another.).

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