GCC Drops Requirement of Copyright Assignment to FSF

By Eben Moglen | June 2, 2021

I am not, and SFLC is not, counsel to FSF, the GNU Project, or the GCC Steering Committee. We do not speak for any of them. I have read the GCC Steering Committee statement on copyright assignment, and on that basis I can give an independent legal opinion.

  1. GCC is not changing anything about its “outbound” licensing. The compiler and associated elements of the toolchain remain licensed under the terms of GPLv3, as modified by the relevant additional permissions. No downstream user, modifier or redistributor of GCC is facing any changes whatsoever.

  2. The GCC Steering Committee has decided, on the “inbound” side of its projects, not to require copyright assignment to FSF for contributions. Copyright assignment to FSF was traditionally required for “core” GNU Project components. Instead, the Steering Committee has decided to allow contributors to keep their own copyrights, if they wish. Such contributors can submit a Developer Certificate of Origin, stating that the contribution is their own work, or the work of others who have given them authority to certify origin, and that they have the necessary rights to make the contribution. This is the mechanism by which the Linux kernel project, among other non-FSF managers of GPL’d code, accept contributions to their works.

  3. The effect of this change, as the GCC Steering Committee states, is to loosen the bonds between FSF and the GCC projects. FSF will long remain the preponderant copyright holder in GCC and related projects, but the Steering Committee and its counsel will now begin taking into account in the projects’ legal relationships the presence of other copyright holders, to the extent that it chooses to incorporate contributions from non-assigning parties.

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