If a company has a Github repo under GPL license, can they, as the owners of the original code, distribute closed-source copies of it, i.e do they have a different right over the code ?

  • I’m voting to close this question because GPL isn't a law.
    – bdb484
    Oct 5, 2023 at 17:52
  • @bdb484 The GPL and other software licenses can be seen as a sort of contract. In any case though, such questions are probably better at opensource.stackexchange.com -- I think this one is already answered over there in a different wording. This arrangement in open source is often called "dual licensing" or "multi licensing".
    – Brandin
    Oct 6, 2023 at 8:19
  • See also the "official" GPL FAQ answer to this: gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DeveloperViolate
    – Brandin
    Oct 6, 2023 at 8:21
  • @Brandin I agree on both counts.
    – bdb484
    Oct 6, 2023 at 19:22

2 Answers 2


If you are the sole copyright holder, or if you have the agreement of all copyright holders, then you are not bound by any license. If you are not the sole copyright holder then any copyright holder can sue you for copyright infringement if that is what you do.

And "distribute closed-source copies of it" is not "using it privately". The GPL license allows you many things as long as you don't distribute anything, whether you are copyright holder or not, but as soon as you distribute, you must follow the terms of the GPL license, or you can be sued by any copright holders.

  • But then you are say selling GPL software as a closed source code, it's against its own license
    – Minsky
    Oct 9, 2023 at 23:35


They can also offer non-GPL licences to third-parties.

If I own the copyright, I am not bound by any licence I give to someone else (apart from an exclusivity arrangement).

  • So, to put a concrete example, if Facebook releases react as GPL license, they can then change, and minify the software that was GPL on Github and distribute it, without respecting the license itself just because they are the owners ?
    – Minsky
    Oct 9, 2023 at 23:37
  • @Minsky yes. It’s a common legal principle that you can do whatever you like with your own stuff.
    – Dale M
    Oct 10, 2023 at 0:11
  • If they are the exclusive copyright holder. So if they accepted a contribution from me, and I didn’t sign over the copyright, they would have to ask for my permission or remove my contribution.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 16, 2023 at 14:33
  • And if version X was GPL licensed and I got a copy, I can continue distributing version X under the GPL license forever. Anyone who has version X can. The only difference is I can’t say “ask Facebook for the source code” anymore, but I personally must be able to provide it.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 16, 2023 at 14:36

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