If I find an Open Source project I like, but I rewrite the entire thing because it's poorly written. I don't mean the question where you rewrite it slightly different, so I can say it's mine or anything like that. I've seen those questions and answers. This is actually the opposite.

Example (only an example),

I take a project. I rewrite it entirely in an MVC framework. The original project had nothing even close to it. In fact, I change everything except I keep a database table. I take no code whatsoever, except a line or two that require me to say my work is a derivation of the original. Thus, I have to license it as such.

Can I say it is a fork or project X?

I ask because this is kind of the reverse of all the questions I have read. This question wants to know if you can keep calling yourself a fork. If you do this, isn't this just a way to make your new project popular or to direct traffic, "Open Source SEO." I don't mean you changed one line, so you can say you're a different project. I mean a whole rewrite, but you keep just enough so you are required to say you derived your work from X (just assume for the purpose of the question, the resulting project actually is better than the original). In short, a marketing technique.

Edit: Is this unethical?

Edit: I did find this, How to avoid being forked into oblivion by a more powerful contributor?

  • I don't understand the "be used for Marketing" part. Commented May 23, 2016 at 19:46
  • He means riding the coattails of the original project name. And no, he can't do that. Well, he can try, of course, but it probably won't end well. Commented May 23, 2016 at 19:46
  • @RobertHarvey Yes. That is what I'm asking.
    – johnny
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 20:24

2 Answers 2


The point of open spource software is that you can do all the things you describe. However, do not try to mislead people into thinking that your code is the original project.

If your version is better, users will notice that and your program will slowly eclipse the original - this has happened countless times before. (If it isn't, then you don't deserve the success.)

Therefore, go ahead and say that yours is a drop-in replacement for X, or inspired by X, or "X on steroids" or whatever. People love better versions of popular things. But they hate it when you try to pose as someone else, because it makes you look dishonest and shifty. Don't go there. Just bite the bullet and devise a new, cooler-sounding name for yourself.

  • I think it is shifty as well. I like inspired by or maybe a connector for data conversion.
    – johnny
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 18:04

Open source is about licensing (with a free software license) and about community of developers. Licensing is related to copyright (and you copyright some source code, not some design ideas or architecture).

If you rewrite entirely some software yourself on your own time, the resulting source code is entirely yours, and you could even make that proprietary code (but you'll probably not find clients willing to buy it).

If you make your code free software, it won't be a fork of the original software.

However, building a community of developers is really hard.

NB. I am not a lawyer

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