42

Some years ago I wrote and released some software under the MIT license.

Recently I noticed that one (or some?) of the forks have altered the leading copyright notice at the top of the license, i.e.

Copyright (c) 2014 <my name>

MIT License

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining
a copy of this software...

to

Copyright (c) 2019 <new author>

MIT License

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining
a copy of this software...

It's just a small tool, but it does kind of feel bad having my name stripped from what was mostly my work.

  • Is this something that should be covered by the MIT license?
    • I.e. is removing a name violating the license? It's unclear to me if the MIT "must remain whole" statement includes the copyright part or just the "MIT license" part.
  • Did I pick the wrong license?
    • Which should I have chosen to ensure my name remains attached to my work?
  • At what point (if ever?) is it appropriate to strip an original authors name from a license?
    • I would assume never barring what would be considered a full rewrite?

closed as off-topic by gnat, amon, Bart van Ingen Schenau, BobDalgleish, Jörg W Mittag Feb 4 at 16:53

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  • 3
    This isn't an MIT license thing, this is a copyright thing. Falsifying or removing copyright notices is illegal, possibly even criminal (in the US, see 17 USC §1202; in Germany this would be an indirect consequence of §13 UrhG). Gently contact the fork and request them to correct their notices. – amon Feb 4 at 10:32
60

Yes, this is covered by the MIT license and you should contact the author of the derivative work to correct the copyright notice.

More precisely, with MIT license, you allow everyone:

to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software,

So, someone can modify and enhance your original software. In this case you still own the original software and the new author owns the copyright on his or her modifications (so it's a kind of joint ownership, everyone on the own contribution).

But with MIT you set a condition to do so:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

So, even if that person may claim copyright on his or her modifications, he or she shall sill include your name in the copyright notice, since you still own a part of that code. There are several ways to do so, but the clearest one seems to be:

Copyright (c) 2014 <your name>
Copyright (c) 2019 <new author>

I think this is still the case, even if 90% of the code was rewritten, since you still hold the copyright on the 10% remaining.

Disclaimer: this is not legal advice but my own practical understanding as software professional. For qualified legal advice, you should consult a lawyer or a qualified legal advisor in your jurisdiction.

  • 18
    I suspect that the people who changed it likely didn't understand how the license works and would have no issues adding both names in if asked. – Qwertie Feb 4 at 11:53
  • 22
    Even if 100% was rewritten twice the copyright still holds as it's derivative work. – Jakub Kania Feb 4 at 12:03
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    In addition to (almost certainly) being in violation of the copyright, this is, to me, very rude. I don't think you have any risk of being seen as sensitive by being upset by this. The size of the tool is irrelevant. If they deemed your contribution trivial, they wouldn't have started from it. That said, it may well have been a mistake so I would start with tact and diplomacy. – drjpizzle Feb 4 at 16:03
  • 1
    @Qwertie I doubt that someone would go ahead and change name in license that they forked if they were a nice and fair person. – Tomáš Zato Feb 5 at 11:05
  • 1
    @TomášZato Up until this post I had no idea there was any requirement to keep the name there on forked works. Always worth assuming people did not know and just figured you put the current maintainer on there. – Qwertie Feb 5 at 11:30

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