We are using some of my pre-existing, personally copyrighted open source software libraries at my employer. Recently they have asked me to "fix" the copyright so that it is theirs.

I have no objection to them owning a version of the code, i.e. that they own the copyright to, however I want to retain the ownership and copyright of the original code as it existed before I came here.

Is there a reasonably painless way to achieve this?


Cross-posted from Open Source, per a commenter's suggestion. https://opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/6230/can-i-assign-a-2nd-copyright-to-my-employer

  • 3
    It's open-source, there's nothing to "fix". They can either buy your copyright or continue to use everything available so far under the OS license. At best your employer is naïve, at worst they are attempting to steal your creation under the guise of being work-related. For your own protection, get personal legal advice on the subject now.
    – user4657
    Nov 21, 2017 at 3:40
  • Even if they buy your copyright it is still subject to the OS license and has essentially no commercial value.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 21, 2017 at 6:50
  • @ohwilleke the original version may not have commercial value but owning the copyright will allow to release newer versions under any license.
    – Greendrake
    Nov 21, 2017 at 10:33
  • @Greendrake Not to the extent that the new version is derived from the old one. The company is confused about its value.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 21, 2017 at 17:22
  • @ohwilleke: Actually, the company can even decide to withdraw the open-source license offer for the existing version. There is no implicit promise in Open Source that any party will continue to offer software under any Open Source license. But even if the company stops, Open Source licenses contain sublicensing clauses which allow others to continue distributing that software, possibly forking it's development.
    – MSalters
    Nov 21, 2017 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


Copyright can be shared, but that isn't going to help them. Shared copyright means you need permissions from both authors, not either author. That's one of the reasons Linux is under GPL2 - they'd need literally thousands of copyright owners to agree to change to GPL3. And no, that's not a majority vote. Everyone has a veto.

On the other hand, why do you need to retain copyright? You can agree to sell it, and retain for yourself the rights under the Open Source license. It can't harm to have this license grant noted explicitly in the terms of sale, though.

It is either mandatory or strongly advised to have this transfer of copyright formalized in a written contract, with an explicit statement of the amount paid for it.


The best response is to offer them a permanent, non-revocable license to the code. You can license your code any way you want, in multiple ways, and this is often done with open source libraries. This allows the software to continue to be open-sourced, but also allows your company the ability to extend and modify the software without having to abide by the GPL2 license. It eliminates their risk, which is probably what they're concerned about.

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