Lots of software is licensed under the GPL license. It is very well known and well understood. Like most legal documents the license is itself copyrighted, and while the license can be freely copied and used, permission to create derivative works of the license is explicitly denied. So if you see a license calling itself “GPL license” most people will not read any further but assume it is the well-known license.

I read elsewhere that scammers distribute software with a “fake” GPL license. It looks like the GPL license but contains terms that are highly negative for the user of the software.

If I fall for this scam, am I bound by the fake license? Or can I argue that since the license called itself “GPL license” and creating a fake GPL license is copyright infringement (assume that taking enough from the original to be convincing requires it to be substantially similar to the original), I should be able to act as if it was the “real” GPL license?

(See this article: https://m.slashdot.org/story/421657)

  • Is the name of the fake license exactly the same as of the real one e.g. "GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE Version 3, 29 June 2007", or a variation?
    – Greendrake
    Nov 20, 2023 at 6:58
  • What concrete terms could you imagine that would make the faker benefit from the wrong license more than from the right one? I think the risk would be higher for "more free" licenses such as LGPL, Apache or MIT, where derivative works don't need to be open-sourced and hence the faker could try to force a company using his faked library to make the whole software open-source (or pay a considerable fee)
    – PMF
    Nov 20, 2023 at 7:28
  • @PMF The dispute seems to be with adding the "Commons Clause" requirements to the AGPLv3, to try and prevent using the software from commercial purposes. Officially, the (A)GPLv3 allows you to add certain requirements to the license, but at the same time allows downstream users to "remove" anything that was added that shouldn't have been added in the first place ("additional restrictions"), so this case here seems like mainly a dispute about whether the particular thing added was allowed to be removed or not (since apparently he did in fact remove the "Commons Clause" requirement).
    – Brandin
    Nov 21, 2023 at 13:12
  • See also this related Q&A on Open Source SE about (A)GPLv3 + Commons Clause: opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/10045/…
    – Brandin
    Nov 21, 2023 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


As a matter of contract law, you are bound to the amended licence

If a scammer (to use your term), has violated FSF’s copyright, that is a matter between them and FSF; it has nothing to do with you.

Providing you were on notice as to the terms of the amended licence and freely accepted them, you are bound by them. It doesnt matter if you actually read or understood them.

Consumer law might come to the rescue

In jurisdictions where there are prohibitions against misleading or deceptive conduct, this might get caught by those. Similarly, jurisdictions which prohibit unfair contract terms might void the more onerous insertions.


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