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Do GitHub's updated terms of service conflict with copyleft?

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Legal

GitHub's updated terms caused a great deal of concern, but while they are confusing, they do not appear to be incompatible with copyleft. The Free Software Foundation (FSF), though, still recommends using other code hosting sites.

GitHub recently updated their terms of service (ToS). Users of the site are raising many concerns over the new terms, fearing that the ToS could be incompatible with the copyleft licenses on works uploaded to GitHub. In particular, section D of the new terms, which handles rights granted to GitHub and GitHub users, makes many hackers very uncomfortable.

Section D.4 states, "You grant us and our legal successors the right to store and display your Content and make incidental copies as necessary to render the Website and provide the Service. " At first glance that might appear to grant permissions on your work without the concomitant protective guarantees found in copyleft licenses like the GNU General Public License (GPL). Users who care about ensuring that their software never becomes proprietary would not want to give such unconditional permission. And those uploading works that incorporate third-party copylefted code may not even be able to grant such permissions.

But licenses like the GNU GPL already give the necessary permissions to make, use, and modify local copies of a work. Are the new GitHub ToS asking for more than that? It's not fully clear. While the grant language could fit within the scope of the GPL, other words used in the section like "share" or "distribute" could be understood to mean something that wouldn't line up with the GPL's terms.

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