I (15 years old; living in Germany) write software now for ~four years and wondered whether I can release it into the public domain or under some free software license without having to ask somebody. I know that I have to ask my parents for many legal acts and that my father's employer (he is a professional software developer) has some rights about his software. Have I to ask my parents (as for many legal acts), my school (my "employer" :)) or somebody entirely different? I had searched the web very often but I always only find what the legal status of schools are.

PS: I'm not a native English speaker and that's why I don't know whether I said that what I wanted to or not. Everybody who thinks he maybe has spotted a mistake: correct it please. This is what I wanted to say (in my native language German):

Ich (15 Jahre alt; in Deutschland lebend) schreibe nun seit ungefähr vier Jahren Software und überlege manchmal, ob ich sie in die Public Domain entlassen oder unter einer Freien-Software-Lizenz stellen kann ohne irgendjemanden zu fragen. Ich weiß, dass ich bei vielen rechtlichen Aktionen meine Eltern fragen muss, und, dass der Arbeitgeber meines Vaters (er ist professioneller Software-Entwickler) einige Rechte an seiner Software hat. Muss ich meine Eltern (wie so oft), meine Schule (meinen "Arbeitgeber" also sozusagen) oder gar jemanden ganz anderen fragen? Ich habe danach oft im Internet gesucht, aber konnte immer nur Abhandlungen über den Status in Schulen finden.


In Germany, there is no concept that corresponds directly to public domain. You automatically hold the Urheberrecht (~ copyright) for all creative works that you make, and it can't be given up or transferred (§29 UrhG). The work only enters the Gemeinfreiheit (~public domain) 70 years after your death. You can however license Verwertungsrechte (economic usage rights). When you make creative works in the course of employment (see §43 UrhG), your employer automatically gets the Verwertungsrechte necessary in the context for the work, which is typically an exclusive right (no one else, not even you, can use the work).

Your are not in an employment relationship with your school, so it has no rights to your works and cannot prevent you from publishing them on copyright grounds. When you see advice on the internet to check with your school first, that is U.S.-specific advice.

Since you're still a minor (7–17), you only have limited capacity to enter contracts or legal transactions (bedingte Geschäftsfähigkeit). While you are able to make transactions involving your own means (e.g. buying something with your pocket money) or make transactions that are only to your benefit (such as accepting a gift), other transactions are schwebend unwirksam (~ pending ratification), until your parents agree. The relevant law is in §107 and §108 BGB.

This is a problem with open source licenses. If you publish software under a license, this license is schwebend unwirksam. Someone might start using the software under the license. But then if your parents refuse ratification, the license would be invalid, and everyone would have to stop using your software and destroy any derivative works they made. This is a bit of a problem, especially since open source licenses are otherwise assumed to be irrevocable.

So if you want to offer a license (including open source licenses), please give legal certainty to the recipients of the license and ask your parents for their consent first, possibly even in writing. Per §107 BGB, the license you offer with their consent will be valid.

  • Not directly relevant to the question but it seems that §43 UrhG actually says the opposite, the employer does not automatically get rights absent a contract to the contrary (my German isn't great, I used the English translation the Justice ministry provides: gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_urhg/englisch_urhg.html) – DPenner1 May 27 '20 at 21:33
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    @DPenner1 That sentence is indeed ambiguous in the original German as well, but its meaning is well established through case law: Germany has a mild variant of the “work for hire” concept, just with an implicit license grant instead of a copyright transfer. That the surrounding subsection still applies means that details about adequate remuneration also reach into the employment relationship, e.g. an employed author may be able to re-negotiate royalties in surplus of their original salary if their work is very profitable. – amon May 27 '20 at 22:14
  • There might be a relevance of the school, if you programmed in class. (I never really understand the law there and suspect it is complicated and controversial.) – K-HB May 28 '20 at 19:22

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