From what I understand the GPL license can only be enforced by the copyright holder.

Therefore, given a scenario like this:

A developer finds an abandoned software project licensed under GPL.

S/he builds upon the project and extends the functionality (which I'm assuming would counts as derivative work).

S/he releases the improved source code to everyone else.

At some point the GPL license has been violated.

Could the new developer enforce the license if the original copyright holder is long-gone or undisclosed in the original work?

Or is the license only enforceable by the original creator?

  • 1
    "abandoned" does not have much legal value in copyright law. It makes it slightly harder to sue for damages. In general, the original author can often claim "it worked as it should be, software doesn't rot, it doesn't need reprints, so why should I need to do anything to retain a copyright"?
    – MSalters
    Mar 17, 2017 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


There are now 2 works. An original, abandoned work, and a new, derivative work. The original creator owns the copyright over the original, and the new person owns copyright over the derivative he created.

In your scenario, it will be the new creator, who will have the right to sue, if the gpl of the new work has been infringed

  • Thanks, Is there anything that you could link to that confirms this (just for reference)?
    – Rtsne42
    Mar 14, 2017 at 14:58
  • 7
    Actually, both the original author and the new author have copyright in the derivative work, unless every last bit of the original has been removed. So both would be allowed to sue for copyright infringement.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 14, 2017 at 22:40

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