Some points I know:

  • Contributors own copyright over their contributions, which means the author (= the owner of the repo and original author) cannot re-license the code (= change the license of the code) without asking every contributor.
  • That's why some companies require you to sign a Contributor License Agreement which - easily said - transfers your rights to them, so that they can do what they want with the code (relicense, make proprietary, ...).


  • When making changes to another repo (you've forked) do you release your changes under the license (usually a file called LICENSE or similar) of that repo?
  • If so there is one abnormality: If contributing to an MIT licensed project means you release your changes under the MIT license, this still does not mean the contributor has to be attributed in the new code base, but this is a requirement of the MIT license.
  • If I fork a (MIT licensed) project where contributors contributed to it does this really mean I fork one project which is licensed under one MIT license or does it rather mean I fork one project licensed under multiple MIT licenses of all contributors? So is this rather splitting of a cake or can I consider the project a big block of a license?

I think a step-by-step explanation (from forking the repo until the Pull Request is merged) would be useful. Bonus points for any kind of metaphors.

This question has been cross-posted in open source Stackexchange as it overlaps.

  • 1
    Cross-posting the same question is only rarely beneficial, and it risks multiple people doing the same work to answer the same question. In this case, I don't see how this question is relevant to Law at all. It is completely relevant to Open Source (but, thank you for pointing out that you cross-posted it).
    – Tim Malone
    Aug 5, 2016 at 22:59
  • A CLA rarely, if ever, transfers your rights - it grants them a license: you still have your rights. It's certainly arguable that one that did transfer rights would be unconscionable.
    – Dale M
    Aug 5, 2016 at 23:17
  • @TimMalone Okay, I just saw many questions about open-source here, so I asked it here too.
    – rugk
    Aug 8, 2016 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


I am not familiar with the technical details of what you are talking about but I can offer some legal context.

A copyright owner can licence different people on different licence terms. Unless someone is given an exclusive license (in which case it has to be, you know, exclusive) there can be multiple licences and those multiple licences may be available to the same person. That person is free to choose which license they will observe.

For example, if you posted an answer on stack exchange containing an MIT licence then any of us could reuse it using either the MIT licence or the licence you granted to Stack Exchange under their terms of service.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .