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I have an MIT-licensed repository which has been copied entirely, just replacing the author's name. I've heard that MIT takes away most copyright and permits free use, but if anyone can copy code and even just replace my name with theirs, what is the point of the MIT License?

Can I submit a DMCA takedown notice (to GitHub) in my case? Do I even need a lawyer for this? As a student, I can't afford to and I cannot even allow such copying. This discourages open source developers.

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    if you do not want to allow copying, what is the reason the repository is licensed under MIT in the first place?
    – lucidbrot
    Apr 26 at 16:10
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    If developers are discouraged by other people copying their code, then they are not open source developers. Apr 26 at 16:40
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    @lucidbrot Beacause I want people can copy and improve it, but obviously just copying and replacing author name isn't expected. I would be happy if he/she at least made some improvements and then call himself an author, but he didn't. It's just a copy paste and taking credit Apr 27 at 10:48
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    Aah I see it now. Consider adding those four links to the opening post, as the derivative repo has removed the MIT license which is against the terms of license and indeed lets you slap it down. Apr 27 at 11:06
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    The key point is that the license has been altered, see Philip Kendall's excellent answer. Apr 27 at 11:17

2 Answers 2

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I've heard that MIT takes away most copyright

This is absolutely not correct; the MIT License (and all other open source licenses) rely on copyright law to be effective.

and permits free use

The MIT License permits use only within the conditions specified in the license. While that means you can do it without spending money, it is inaccurate to describe it as "free" (particularly within the open source community where "free" is an overloaded term).

Coming back to the point in hand:

I have a MIT licensed repository which is entirely copied just replacing the author name

The question here is exactly what did they do? The requirement in the MIT License is not very long ("The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software."). Therefore:

  • If they replaced your name specifically in the copyright notice, then they are in violation of the license and you would be able to submit a claim against them.
  • If they replaced your name anywhere else (e.g. there was a bit of text in the program which says "This software was written by the great programmer user18915229" and they changed it to "This software was written by the great programmer SomeOtherPerson"), that is absolutely fine - at least legally. Ethically it's questionable, but that's out of scope here.
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    "it is inaccurate to describe it as free" - I agree that "free" is an overloaded term in the open source community, but the MIT license fits all the definitions of free that I am aware of (free of cost, freedom to use for whatever, freedom to modify, free to include in open source and commercial software)
    – 9072997
    Apr 26 at 20:12
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please, please don't start new discussions here; they'll be deleted. If you have a question for the author of the answer, then it may be a legitimate comment; otherwise, it's probably not.
    – MadHatter
    Apr 27 at 12:34
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    The ethical issue you mention has a specific name: plagiarism. That's a separate thing from copyright. e.g. it's still plagiarism to publish a copy of Hamlet with your name as the author, even though the text itself is in the public domain and thus not protected by any copyright. (I'm not sure if there's any legal remedy for pure plagiarism that doesn't violate a copyright law, but name and shame is likely to be effective if the offender has any reputation they care about. ) Apr 28 at 3:54
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    @PeterCordes There's the concept of moral rights, one of which is the right of attribution/paternity. Removing or replacing the author's name could infringe on it. In civil law jurisdictions that right is usually perpetual and inalienable, so likely yes. Otherwise, it depends. Apr 28 at 7:49
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    @AmiralPatate: Ah right, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_rights mentions some countries include moral rights as part of their copyright law. This would still be separate from the license itself, but might give you a legal mechanism to go after someone. Apr 28 at 7:51
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As mentioned earlier, I would strongly suggest that you reach out to the offending party. If they literally took credit for your work and have been "caught red-handed", they are likely to remedy the problem quickly and without you needing to resort to legal remedies. I would suggest creating an issue in the offending github repository and perhaps even a PR correcting the attributions.

The latter has the advantage of creating a record or your requested changes and could help you build a copywrite claim if necessary. It also exposes the potential plagiarism to the community in which the offending code is being used. In other words, start small and escalate as necessary.

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