Ask Mr. Moodle: How does Moodle Manage Copyright?

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This question came in via the Moodlenews “contact us” link and I have to admit that legalese and understanding the GPL/Open Source licensing is not my strong suit.

I’m trying to understand some aspects of Moodle and I was wondering if someone could answer my questions.  Basically I’d like to know the way that Moodle manages copyright. Is it different than the way Linux does it?

Which of the 2 has the ownership of copyright over the code?

How is the authorship of the contributions attributed?

If they want to publish a version under GNU GPLv3 what would they do to relicense the code?


Well, thank you for raising the question.

From what I do understand, Moodle’s code is governed by the GNU General Public License (  This govern’s the use of it as open source software and sets some guidelines for how subsequent changes, modifications or edits be shared back to the community.

Users are free to change Moodle, distribute changed copies, use Moodle on their own sites (even commercially) and can even “sell” services and the software (though anyone subsequently down the food chain “buying” the code is entitled to the same controls over Moodle’s code base).  Note that this does not govern course content which you create or license from another proprietary source (i.e. by using content from a major textbook publisher in your Moodle course you are not required to share/distribute the content.  That content is governed by its own copyright).

What you may not do, which is more of a trademark issue than open source governance, is use the Moodle name without consent of the Moodle Trust to offer standard Moodle services (e.g. hosting, customization).  As I understand it though, you could take Moodle code, call it JoeboeLMS and distribute it as such to clients with a suite of JoeboeLMS services and hosting.  The distinction here being that the name Moodle derives control and revenue for Moodle HQ which helps to drive further development and support the community (where as JoeboeLMS would need its own community/revenue model).

A very interesting discussion just ensued which covers the ownership of themes created for Moodle (and who retains the ownership of those themes) which might illuminate the question “contributions attributed” and ownership:

Now, I could be wrong in any of the above (and I apologize if I am).  If you understand copyright and how it pertains to Moodle PLEASE share it in the comments.

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