Copyleft Can’t Undo Copyright

Matt Jacobs | Open Source Delivers | October 10, 2012

As Black Duck’s in-house counsel, I talk to many lawyers representing our customers and in the Global 2000 generally. I’ve found that there is a common misperception around the impact of the GPL on IP that is worth clearing up. Many lawyers (and non-lawyers) mistakenly conclude that the copyleft nature of the GPL – namely, the obligation for an author using GPL licensed code to make available their own source code to any recipients of that author’s work based on GPL licensed code – requires an author to give up their copyright in that code. 

While the GPL does require a sharing of the source code, the author is not required to assign or transfer their copyright to any entity, including the Free Software Foundation (the stewards of the GPL), or otherwise surrender their IP to the “public domain.”  Let’s consider two cases...