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I'm planning to make an open-source game engine/editor called the NWR Project https://github.com/NotWhiteRice/the-NWR-Project I don't care if people copy the visuals, menus, etc., but I don't want people copying all of my source code and claiming it as their own work or using parts of it with ill intent.

I also don't want to have rights to works made with my game engine and want them exclusively to the ones who made the works.

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    Most of the popular OSS licenses (e.g. GPL, Apache, MIT) require that the license and copyright notice be included alongside any derivatives/redistributions of the licensed work. Is that all you're looking for? Any of those would prevent people from "copying all of [your] source code and claiming it as their own work". However, no license has the inherent power to stop bad actors, and legal action against those with "ill intent" may be required anyway.
    – L0tad
    May 22, 2023 at 17:40
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    What exactly do you mean by "using parts of it with ill intent"?
    – Brandin
    May 23, 2023 at 6:54
  • I'll be finicky (however IANAL): no license can prevent that. However, with most OSS licenses, such a thing (claiming it our own) would likely be deemed infringement by court. May 24, 2023 at 9:26

3 Answers 3

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I don't want people copying all of my source code and claiming it as their own work

Any open source license will do this; even the most "bare bones" licenses (MIT, 2 clause BSD etc) require that anybody using the code maintain all copyright notices so it will always be clear that your work was used.

I don't want people [...] using parts of it with ill intent.

This depends what you mean by "ill intent"; if you mean "without giving appropriate credit", this is covered by the previous point. If you mean "don't use the code for things which are morally wrong" (for some definition of "morally wrong"), no open source license will do this, principally due to the difficulty of defining "morally wrong".

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    There are some licenses that do forbid "morally wrong" uses. A famous example that used to do this is the JSON spec which had "The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil." in it's license. This was grounds for a lot of debate because some projects, like debian, considered it a non-free license based on this.
    – blues
    May 23, 2023 at 14:22
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    @blues I am well aware of that; the JSON license is not an open source license as defined by this site precisely due to that clause. May 23, 2023 at 14:25
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I don't want people copying all of my source code and claiming it as their own work

Pretty much any license will require attribution, even MIT and most BSD variants. The exception is public domain licenses such as CC0 and 0-clause BSD.

I don't want people [...] using parts of it with ill intent

Note that this would conflict with the FSF's freedom 0 ("The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose") and OSI's criteria 5 ("No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups") and 6 ("No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor"), thereby making it often considered to not be Open Source, especially not FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software).

There are some licenses that attempt to do this (mostly listed in https://github.com/ErikMcClure/bad-licenses), but I'm not sure how legally effective they are:

  1. This software must not be used by any organisation, website, product or service that:

    a) lobbies for, promotes, or derives a majority of income from actions that support or contribute to:

    • sex trafficking
    • human trafficking
    • slavery
    • indentured servitude
    • gambling
    • tobacco
    • adversely addictive behaviours
    • nuclear energy
    • warfare
    • weapons manufacturing
    • war crimes
    • violence (except when required to protect public safety)
    • burning of forests
    • deforestation
    • hate speech or discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, sexuality, religion, nationality

    b) lobbies against, or derives a majority of income from actions that discourage or frustrate:

    • peace
    • access to the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child
    • peaceful assembly and association (including worker associations)
    • a safe environment or action to curtail the use of fossil fuels or prevent climate change
    • democratic processes

[...]

We define:

Forests to be 0.5 or more hectares of trees that were either planted more than 50 years ago or were not planted by humans or human made equipment.

Deforestation to be the clearing, burning or destruction of 0.5 or more hectares of forests within a 1 year period.

  • The Katharos License v0.1.0: https://github.com/ErikMcClure/bad-licenses/blob/master/katharos-license.md, https://github.com/katharostech/katharos-license/blob/master/LICENSE_v0.1.0.md
    • Claiming: "Notice: Licensee must ensure that everyone who gets a copy of any part of this Work from Licensee, with or without changes, also receives the License and the above copyright notice (and if included by the Licensor, patent, trademark and attribution notice). Licensee must cause any modified versions of the Work to carry prominent notices stating that Licensee changed the Work. For clarity, although Licensee is free to create modifications of the Work and distribute only the modified portion created by Licensee with additional or different terms, the portion of the Work not modified must be distributed pursuant to this License."
    • Ill intent:

Permitted Use of Work:

  1. The Work shall not be used by any person or entity for any systems, activities, products, services or other uses that (i) lobby for, promote, or support the following activities or materials or (ii) that derive a majority of income from the following activities or materials:

    • sex trafficking
    • human trafficking
    • slavery
    • indentured servitude
    • warfare
    • weapons manufacturing
    • war crimes
    • violence ( except when required to protect public safety )
    • weapons of mass destruction
    • sexually suggestive or explicit images, artwork, or any other media
    • excessively gory and/or violent images, artwork, or any other media
    • abortion
    • murder
    • mass surveillance and/or stealing of private information
    • hate speech or discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, sexuality, religion, nationality
  2. The Work shall not be used by any person, entity, product, service or other use that (i) lobbies against, discourages, or frustrates the following activities or (ii) that derives a majority of income from actions that discourage, or frustrate the following activities:

    • peaceful assembly and association (including worker associations)
    • democratic processes

Compliance with Permitted Use of Work & Human Rights Laws:

[...]

  1. Human Rights Laws. The Software shall not be used by any person or entity for any systems, activities, or other uses that violate any Human Rights Laws. “Human Rights Laws” means any applicable laws, regulations, or rules (collectively, “Laws”) that protect human, civil, labor, privacy, political, environmental, security, economic, due process, or similar rights; provided, however, that such Laws are consistent and not in conflict with Permitted Use of Work (a dispute over the consistency or a conflict between Laws and Permitted Use of Work shall be determined by arbitration as stated above). Where the Human Rights Laws of more than one jurisdiction are applicable or in conflict with respect to the use of the Work, the Human Rights Laws that are most aligned with the guidelines defined in the Holy Bible shall apply.
  • The Hippocratic License 2.1: https://spdx.org/licenses/Hippocratic-2.1.html, https://github.com/EthicalSource/hippocratic-license/blob/release/content/version/2/1/license.md
    • Claiming: "Notice. Licensee must ensure that everyone who gets a copy of any part of this Software from Licensee, with or without changes, also receives the License and the above copyright notice (and if included by the Licensor, patent, trademark and attribution notice). Licensee must cause any modified versions of the Software to carry prominent notices stating that Licensee changed the Software. For clarity, although Licensee is free to create modifications of the Software and distribute only the modified portion created by Licensee with additional or different terms, the portion of the Software not modified must be distributed pursuant to this License."
    • Ill intent: "Compliance with Human Rights Principles and Human Rights Laws. Human Rights Principles. (a) Licensee is advised to consult the articles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Global Compact that define recognized principles of international human rights (the “Human Rights Principles”). Licensee shall use the Software in a manner consistent with Human Rights Principles. [...] Human Rights Laws. The Software shall not be used by any person or entity for any systems, activities, or other uses that violate any Human Rights Laws. “Human Rights Laws” means any applicable laws, regulations, or rules (collectively, “Laws”) that protect human, civil, labor, privacy, political, environmental, security, economic, due process, or similar rights; provided, however, that such Laws are consistent and not in conflict with Human Rights Principles (a dispute over the consistency or a conflict between Laws and Human Rights Principles shall be determined by arbitration as stated above). Where the Human Rights Laws of more than one jurisdiction are applicable or in conflict with respect to the use of the Software, the Human Rights Laws that are most protective of the individuals or groups harmed shall apply."
  • The Hippocratic License 3.0: https://firstdonoharm.dev/, https://github.com/EthicalSource/hippocratic-license/blob/release/content/version/3/0/license.md
    • Claiming: "5. NOTICE: This section explains when a Licensee must notify others of the License. 5.1. Distribution of Notice: Licensee must ensure that everyone who receives a copy of or uses any part of Software from Licensee, with or without changes, also receives the License and the copyright notice included with Software (and if included by the Licensor, patent, trademark, and attribution notice). Licensee must ensure that License is prominently displayed so that any individual or entity seeking to download, copy, use, or otherwise receive any part of Software from Licensee is notified of this License and its terms and conditions. Licensee must cause any modified versions of the Software to carry prominent notices stating that Licensee changed the Software. 5.2. Modified Software: Licensee is free to create modifications of the Software and distribute only the modified portion created by Licensee, however, any derivative work stemming from the Software or its code must be distributed pursuant to this License, including this Notice provision. 5.3. Recipients as Licensees: Any individual or entity that uses, copies, modifies, reproduces, distributes, or prepares derivative work based upon the Software, all or part of the Software's code, or a derivative work developed by using the Software, including a portion of its code, is a Licensee as defined above and is subject to the terms and conditions of this License."
    • Ill intent: There are various standard clauses, mostly based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN UDHR), as well as additional add-on modules.
  • BSD No Military/Nuclear License/Warranty (2014): https://spdx.org/licenses/BSD-3-Clause-No-Military-License.html, https://spdx.org/licenses/BSD-3-Clause-No-Nuclear-License.html, https://spdx.org/licenses/BSD-3-Clause-No-Nuclear-License-2014.html, https://spdx.org/licenses/BSD-3-Clause-No-Nuclear-Warranty.html
    • Claiming: "1. Redistribution of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer. 2. Redistribution in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution."
    • Ill intent: "YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THIS SOFTWARE IS NOT DESIGNED, LICENSED OR INTENDED FOR USE IN THE DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION, OPERATION OR MAINTENANCE OF ANY MILITARY FACILITY.", "You acknowledge that this software is not designed, licensed or intended for use in the design, construction, operation or maintenance of any nuclear facility.", or "You acknowledge that this software is not designed or intended for use in the design, construction, operation or maintenance of any nuclear facility."
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    FWIW "violence (except when required to protect public safety)" is a big yikes from me. Public safety is often used as an excuse to legitimize bad violence and oppression.
    – user253751
    May 23, 2023 at 18:47
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    Even without a license requirement to preserve copyright notice and give authorship credit, falsely claiming authorship (and thereby also copyright or provenance to renounce or assign copyright) is unlawful in many (probably most) jurisdictions. See "moral rights" of author and also just plain "fraud". May 23, 2023 at 23:46
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    @SolomonUcko Probably. The key fact is that any license that is effective at enforcing the second part is necessarily not open source, specifically because the Open Source Definition requires that licenses not enforce such things. May 24, 2023 at 2:03
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    The OSI/FSF/OSSE definitions of "open source" really aren't the generally accepted definitions of open source. The vast majority of developers consider open source to mean that the source is available regardless of license. So your "generally considered" comment is overstated I think. That's precisely why we have the FOSS acronym, the "free" part is what you're talking about here, not the "open source" part imho May 25, 2023 at 11:46
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    @ScottishTapWater "The vast majority of developers consider open source to mean that the source is available regardless of license." [citation needed] Both Wikipedia and the Merriam-Webster dictionary define "open-source" as having source code that is "freely available for possible modification and redistribution." The FOSS acronym was invented to bridge the philosophical differences between people who prefer "open source software" and people who prefer "free software."
    – eesiraed
    May 26, 2023 at 0:28
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but I don't want people copying all of my source code and claiming it as their own work ...

Do you mean technically lying about it — not giving you any attribution? Most licenses require attribution, but it can be buried in a long file listing all open-source libraries that went into it. 🙈

But what if I make a "new" derivative work that does almost nothing beyond calling your code? And I give it a new name, present it on Steam as a game I designed, but it's actually 99% your assets, default behaviors etc.? 👿 Most FOSS licenses allow all that as long "click here to see list of open source libraries used" is attributed somewhere, but the end-user impression can be quite misleading...

  • The D--K license mentioned in Solomon's answer is interesting in trying to make a distinction — "Don't just copy this and change the name" ; "Selling the unmodified original with no work done what-so-ever" — though I doubt it's enforcable [IANAL]

The deeper problem is FOSS normally views such re-packaging as a feature! If you write a 10,000 lines library and I write a 3-line command-line tool invoking the library, that's fine (and a proof of friendly API design).

And if you want to limit that, there is tension with your other goal:

I also don't want to have rights to works made with my game engine and want them exclusively to the ones who made the works.

Perhaps you could make a distinction based on the type of derived work? Engine vs. game?

  • For example, consider the GCC Runtime Library Exception.
    GCC the compiler itself has GPL license, which has quite strong copyleft requirements; however they added special exception so when I do [my source]->GCC->[my binary], I can license the resulting binary however I wish, despite GCC injecting small portions of itself into it. (with some tricky guards against abuse e.g. "my source" can't overlap with GCC's source code)
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    The link you give above says the Godot engine is under the MIT licence, so I'm not sure what exception you're speaking of. Could you clarify?
    – MadHatter
    May 28, 2023 at 15:57
  • Sorry my bad. Deleted that part. I thought "Godot Engine's license terms and copyright do not apply to the content you create with it" meant some special arrangement, but apparently the requirements of MIT are so few that no exception is needed. May 28, 2023 at 20:35
  • It wouldn't be an exception, even if that were not so: it's simply a statement of the general truth of copyright law that the licence on a piece of software generally has no effect on the licensing of the output of that software; see eg this question for more details. But thank you for the update; +1 from me.
    – MadHatter
    May 29, 2023 at 5:49

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