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I have a project on GitHub licensed under MIT. Some other person contributed to another unknown-to-me organisation on GitHub two months ago with a commit which copies a part of my code with just a few, very minor, line changes. This commit also adds another license and has no mention of me and my copyright statement and my license (so, of the original project). I also noticed him having other commits like "Copy some more libraries" what clearly is a malicious intent in my opinion, as this has been done more than just once. Initially I wanted to contact this person, but then noticed the same pattern with other projects where he adds another license (so he knows about licensing!), removes parts of the original code, sometimes changes the code, sometimes doesn't, and even names it similarly. After I noticed that pattern, I decided it would be silly to ask him to follow the licenses as he, most likely, understands what a license is as he licenses his code himself.

What can I do in such a situation if I don't want this person to continue stealing other code from everywhere and licensing it on his terms like it is his own and make him follow the original project's license terms?

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    Was the part he copied of your code a 'substantial portion'? For the MIT license, the license text specifically states that the requirement of including the notice applies to "substantial portions" of the Software. If the portion copied and then modified was not substantial, then it could be that failure to include the notice is technically not a violation.
    – Brandin
    Sep 7 at 14:12
  • I'd call it substantial: 1) he wouldn't have 99% of it if it hadn't been worth doing so instead of writing his own implementation 2) the part he copied is worth and functional on its own: anyone can use it directly in the code, the code is clearly doing something, and this fact made the copycat copy the code. Sep 7 at 16:33
  • In my opinion a commit message such as "copy some more libraries" does not itself signal malicious intent. If I saw a separate commit where the required notices were purposefully removed or altered, I might think otherwise.
    – Brandin
    Sep 8 at 7:52
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    That guy already, when "copying", adds his own licenses, so I guess he knows what he is doing. Anyway, I created a GitHub issue in one of his projects, kindly asking him to follow the license terms. Sep 8 at 8:03
  • 1
    Your question already has an answer, but I have to ask: Why is your question framed about "malicious copying"? The entire point of the MIT license is to permit people to copy the licensed code. I could understand if you were upset about lack of attribution, but anything beyond that is essentially against the stated purpose of the MIT license. Sep 8 at 8:14

2 Answers 2

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For those bits where the bad actor has infringed specifically your copyright1, you can alert whoever is distributing the content. For content hosted in the US, that generally means a DMCA Takedown request and Github have further details on how to do this specifically for content on Github. Other sites/jurisdictions will have something similar.

In the more general case of infringing a third party's copyright, there's nothing directly that you can do. Your best bet is probably to contact the actual copyright holder and inform them of the issue; you could try a public "name and shame", but be very, very careful doing that as you don't want to end up in a libel case.

1. or things where you are acting as an authorised agent of the copyright holder - i.e. your lawyer acting on your behalf.

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  • I am an ordinary developer with no money to pay for a lawyer just for this, can I still file a DMCA takedown request on my own? Sep 7 at 16:42
  • Yes, the Github page gives great detail on exactly what you need to do. Sep 7 at 16:46
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    DMCA is free, but I think if they dispute it, then you need an actual lawyer (but they are committing a crime by disputing it, but that's not useful if you can't afford a lawyer)
    – user253751
    Sep 7 at 20:14
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    Before issuing a takedown for this via Github, wouldn't it be better to first at least try a less forceful approach? E.g. file a bug on Github and say that the license notice needs to be added. If he ignores that, or marks as "won't fix" then you can bring down the big hammer.
    – Brandin
    Sep 8 at 7:14
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    @GACy20 A DCMA counternotice must include "A statement by you declaring under penalty of perjury that you have a good-faith belief that the material at issue was either misidentified or mistakenly removed." It is perjury, a crime, to file a counternotice if you don't believe you had the legal right to use the work.
    – prosfilaes
    Sep 8 at 13:55
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"What can I do...?" The decision tree starts with money: Any, and how much.

The open source framework exists in pursuit of the summum bonum, the greatest good. Many (most?) of us who contribute follow the guidelines; stating our licensing terms and diligently abiding by those of others whose work we use.

When a user or group goes rogue, the amount of money involved determines the actions taken. If little-to-none, then you are most free to write a friendly note explaining the offense(s) and requesting/urging a change in practices. A cease and desist (C&D) order can later be sent if violations continue.

Either way, a DMCA takedown request is unlikely to succeed unless the service provider has morals, a rarity these days, sadly. Then there is no further recourse that doesn't involve a net loss of funds. This because any judgements will take into account your damages. No damages, small rewards (if any). Satisfaction that the ship has been righted must be weighed against out-of-pocket costs. Was it, ultimately, worth it?

As the author of stolen works, you may vehemently disagree with allowing your intellectual property to be used by crooks, but in the absence of financial harm, it will cost money to stop the infringement. Personally, I've realigned my motivation for all volunteer labor: Do it for the love of the work.

Now, if substantial money IS involved, a copyright lawyer should be advising you.

An earlier (more concise) answer was already accepted; I just wanted to provide a larger context. (Experience gained when an entire body of my work was stolen some years ago, before I understood the legalities.)

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  • What is the basis of your statement about the DMCA takedown being ineffective ("unlikely to succeed")? I'm fairly certain that GitHub, for example, is obligated to respond to such a request by removing or otherwise restricting public access to the material in question.
    – Brandin
    Sep 15 at 10:27
  • Also it has less to do with morals and more with liability. If you have a service and don't follow the DMCA procedure when you get a takedown notice, then your service itself could be held liable for any infringement that occurred. GitHub will of course want to avoid that risk, so I'm fairly certain they'll follow the procedure that's legally required.
    – Brandin
    Sep 15 at 10:30
  • @Brandin, you state the answer in your question: "...your service itself could be held liable..." Liable for what? The context is small-to-zero money so the provider knows that even if you sue them and win, they will suffer only a small loss. You also know this so both parties understand that there is very little incentive to litigate. In the special case of github, the service can easily verify any infringement claims so is much more likely to act. By contrast, a webspace provider that's making real dollars from an account held by plagiarizers, not so much. Unless they have integrity.
    – u2n
    Sep 16 at 19:04

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