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I published a software project under the GNU Affero General Public License version 3.0. I have written the code behind it, hence I am the copyright holder.

According to the AGPL license, anyone who redistributes this software or a derivative must distribute it under the GPL as well.

Recently, I saw a distribution of a modified version of my software distributed under another license, and also violating other terms of the AGPL v3.0.

I have contacted several organisations, such as

  • Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  • gpl-violations.org

but I did not receive any response.

I do not have adequate (financial) resources (and time) to hire a lawyer just to settle this small issue, especially as this is just a side project of mine.

How do I enforce the license of my AGPL software, and take action on the violators of the license(to comply with the AGPL)? There are a lot of information on the Internet on how to use the (A)GPL on your software but very few sources of information on how you can enforce it when someone violates the license.

Thank you.

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This kind of piracy is unfortunately common. When your copyright has been violated, your available response is to sue the infringer. Yes, this costs money, and yes, many infringers get away with it.

In the Free Software/Open Source community, a couple of actors including the FSF, gpl-violations.org/Harald Welte, and the Software Freedom Conservancy have sued GPL infringers. But they can only do that for copyrights that they hold themselves. For example, the FSF holds copyright for the GNU userland, whereas Welte and Conservancy hold copyright for parts of the Linux kernel. They do not hold copyright for your software so they cannot enforce the AGPL license on your behalf.

What can be done fairly easily is to file a takedown request with platforms that host the infringing content. Under various safe harbor laws including the US DMCA, a platform is not responsible if they accidentally host infringing content uploaded by users. However, the platform has to take the content down if they're notified that the content is infringing. For example, you could file a DMCA takedown request with GitHub to take down their repository, in case they are using GitHub. The drawback is that a takedown notice can be contested by the alleged infringer, in which case the content is reinstated and you would have to sue. The platform is not allowed to make its own determination about whether you or the infringer is right.

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    "They do not hold copyright for your software so they cannot enforce the AGPL license on your behalf." – What they can do is to lend you one of their own lawyers for free and/or pay your lawyer for you. However, it is almost certain they won't do that for Joe Random Developer's 10-line script that nobody cares about. They would only do such a thing for a cause they deem worthy of such as an expense, e.g. if the software in question is critically important to the Internet, or if the case in question is of a nature that it could become an important precedent in copyright case law. Dec 3, 2021 at 18:33
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    @JörgWMittag An example of this was Conservancy's partial funding of Hellwig v VMware, though it (unfortunately) resulted in a ruling that makes future open source license enforcement in Germany much more complicated.
    – amon
    Dec 3, 2021 at 18:41
  • Thanks for the clarification. May I also ask, what about platforms that mandate the open source license(e.g. Qt)? Do the platform owners have the right to sue the people who pirated the software, and how are copies of such programs in violation of the license handled? I am looking to develop for one such platform.
    – LCZ
    Dec 12, 2021 at 6:35
  • @LCZ I don't quite understand. Qt is a company that offers an application framework under both open-source and paid license terms. As the Qt company is the copyright holder for the Qt libraries, they can sue when the Qt license terms are violated, though in practice I would expect any issues to be settled out of court. Libraries vs applications is not a relevant distinction, all are copyrightable software.
    – amon
    Dec 12, 2021 at 11:51

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