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I maintain an open source numerical computing library. I license my project under BSD-3. Another developer has copied 90% of the source code to a new project with the same name, while changing the project to MIT license, with no reference to the original BSD-3 license.

They do reference my GitHub username in the README, but I am still not comfortable having my work copied without any of my copyright notices intact, and with a different license. I know that BSD-3 is a permissive license, but two things stick out to me:

  1. Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

None of my copyright notices are present in the new project.

  1. Neither the name of the copyright holder nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.

The project lists me as a "collaborator", when I do not endorse this new library.

What are my options?

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The 3BSD licence requires (in clause 1) that your copyright notices be preserved, and that some licence text be reproduced, whenever your code is copied. But it does not require that that licence text actually apply to the copy. You can see the sort of language that would require that, in copyright licences such as GPLv3 s5c; 3BSD doesn't have any such language. I have written about relicensing at more length elsewhere, but when looked at from a list-of-conditions-on-the-copyright-grant standpoint, MIT and 3BSD are pretty much identical, so the change here is nearly zero.

I am still not comfortable having my work copied without any of my copyright notices intact

You are right to object to this. The people who've decided to remove your copyright notices are simply wrong to do so, your "collaborator credit" notwithstanding. You intimate that your work might have been published on github, which complicates matters very slightly, but if people have forked your 3BSD-licenced code, removed your copyright notices, and are distributing the result to all and sundry, they are violating your copyright. The usual remedy is a cease-and-desist letter, for which you will need to instruct a lawyer. As you are the rightsholder, the possibility of a DMCA take down notice to github applies, but that will still work better (if it works at all) when you've got a lawyer involved.

and with a different license

Since you didn't release your code under a licence that forbade that, and since the licence they've used is pretty much identical to the one you chose, I don't see this as a problem.

The project lists me as a "collaborator", when I do not endorse this new library.

In moral rights jurisdictions, this is generally wrong, and understood to be so. In other jurisdictions, I am a lot less clear that it is an issue; if you could show clear personal damage as a result of this "credit" a libel action might be a possibility, but it would be very expensive and uncertain. I would focus on the copyright notice issue, which seems to me a very clear-cut wrong.

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  • 1
    I appreciate the response, thank you for all the detail. The repository was actually copied under the official organization of the language in question, and they have said they are going to now control development. As much as I like permissive licenses, is there a license I can choose moving forward to prevent them from continuing to copy from my work? Nov 11 '20 at 10:34
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    @user3483203 yes, but there are no free licences you can use to do that. The freedoms to copy software, modify it, and distribute the modified version are amongst the four freedoms of free software. You could use a strong copyleft licence which would prevent people from distributing modified versions unless they were also free, but since the people who copied your work redistributed it under MIT, they would presumably be perfectly happy to continue to free up their work, so that's no disincentive.
    – MadHatter
    Nov 11 '20 at 10:50
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    Opening an issue on GitHub asking the offending repo to be compliant with the original license, or better yet, a pull request that makes the repo compliant would likely be received better than sending a cease and decist. Something like "Hi, I'm glad you've found some use for my work. I see you've licensed your project under the MIT license, which is fine, but could you make sure my work still maintains the original copyright notice?" Of course, you can always send a cease and decist later if needed.
    – Vaelus
    Nov 11 '20 at 13:47
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    @Vaelus I agree, I went ahead and opened an issue. I think what was more frustrating to me was that this was a library that I was actively maintaining and now the language's official org says it's taking over control, as well as directing users away from my library. Even though it's not prohibited by the license, it seemed like an unethical thing to do. Probably will add a disclaimer in my repo that the two are not associated. Nov 11 '20 at 14:55
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    For what it's worth here, the offender here appears to have good intent and poor execution, which is miles better than poor intent and good execution.
    – corsiKa
    Nov 12 '20 at 17:29
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The BSD-3 license is a permissive license, but even permissive licenses have restrictions that must be observed.

By removing your copyrights and license, the person who copied your code has violated the BSD-3 license you used to distribute the code. You have all the right to demand that they reinstate your copyrights and license.

Many people don't understand how copyright works and perform infringing actions out of ignorance. Because of that, I would start with a friendly note to the other developer informing them that they are infringing your copyrights and that they need to restore your copyrights and license.

If the other developer does not respond favorably to a friendly note, you can take more formal legal steps, such as sending a Cease and Desist Letter, or sending a DMCA takedown notice to the hosting provider of the other's repository. As those are legal steps, you should consult a lawyer when taking them to ensure you get the legal mambo-jumbo correct.

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  • +1 for the possibility of neglect
    – fraxinus
    Nov 11 '20 at 20:08
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The question title [1] refers only to the relicensing issue. It does not refer to the other issues (copyright notices and endorsement), which have been addressed in the other answers.

Since the relicensing issue is given such prominence in the title, here is an answer dedicated to this issue. The question says:

I am still not comfortable having my work copied … with a different license. I know that BSD-3 is a permissive license, but …

It’s tempting to respond:

But nothing. That’s what “permissive” means. Other developers are allowed to use a different licence.

This glosses over a subtle point. Other developers are allowed to apply a different licence to their project as a whole, but your licence still applies to your contributions within that project.

So does the other developer you refer to acknowledge the point I made above? Let’s check the question:

Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

None of my copyright notices are present in the new project.

This seems to suggest that the other developer is including the list of conditions and disclaimer, just not the copyright notices.

It looks like the answer to the relicensing question is: Yes, of course they can relicense your project under a different licence.

[1] I am referring to the title prior to my suggested edit, which as not been accepted at the time I posted this answer.

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