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As far as I know Linus holds the copyright to Linux.

While looking around in the kernel sources, I see that almost every file has it's own copyright holders. For example the file module.c in the Linux kernel contains:

Copyright (C) 2002 Richard Henderson Copyright (C) 2001 Rusty Russell, 2002, 2010 Rusty

And the COPYING file in the root directory contains:

   NOTE! This copyright does *not* cover user programs that use kernel
 services by normal system calls - this is merely considered normal use
 of the kernel, and does *not* fall under the heading of "derived work".
 Also note that the GPL below is copyrighted by the Free Software
 Foundation, but the instance of code that it refers to (the Linux
 kernel) is copyrighted by me and others who actually wrote it.

 Also note that the only valid version of the GPL as far as the kernel
 is concerned is _this_ particular version of the license (ie v2, not
 v2.2 or v3.x or whatever), unless explicitly otherwise stated.

            Linus Torvalds

So if Linus would want to change the license under which Linux is released, wouldn't he need the permission of all the copyright holders, which are probably 1000's of people?

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would you mind quoting an example of "copyright holders" you refer to? –  gnat May 4 '13 at 21:06
For example the file module.c in the linux kernel contains: Copyright (C) 2002 Richard Henderson Copyright (C) 2001 Rusty Russell, 2002, 2010 Rusty If you look at other files, you will see other copyright holders. –  user2246190 May 4 '13 at 21:11
thanks, would you also mind quoting the current linux license? –  gnat May 4 '13 at 21:13
The COPYING file in the root directory: pastebin.com/zQWk3tdg –  user2246190 May 4 '13 at 21:16
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1 Answer

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Yes, he would need permission from every person who has contributed code to the project. This is because those people have only given permission to redistribute their code under the GPL.

Some other projects circumvent this by requiring that contributors assign their rights to the project.

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Note that even if all contributors had assigned their rights to the Linux project, and Linus decided to close its license, the end result would probably be a fork by an outraged community. –  Andres F. May 4 '13 at 22:25
Or Linus could remove (and presumably replace) all code contributed by people who don't agree to the license change. On a smaller scale, Linus could probably relicense a subset of Linux as long as it consists only of code on which he personally holds the copyright (though I doubt that he'd want to). –  Keith Thompson May 5 '13 at 0:04
@KeithThompson I don't think such a subset would be functional, and there is no way he could re-implement the missing bits in a "clean room" way after having stared at others' contributions for decades. –  Sparr May 5 '13 at 2:02
This actually came up when the GPL 3 was released. Some people thought it would be great if the Linux kernel was rereleased under GPL 3 instead of GPL 2. It wasn't really an option, though, since permission would have been needed from too many people. –  Michael Shaw May 5 '13 at 2:11
@Michael Shaw might be worth mentioning that there are "famous" Linux contributors who think it is great to keep GPL 2 –  johannes May 5 '13 at 23:34
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