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I'm planning to draft policies for my company. I'd like to release these policies as open source so that others may use them for their own purposes. I don't mind how they use or modify them, but I do have one very strict condition: If they use my policies, they MUST change or delete all instances of my company name from the text. They may then add their own company or brand name if they choose to do so.

Is there a license that supports this requirement?

I'm sure this question will have been asked before, but I can't find any answers to it.

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  • Can you not insist that they include a copy of a simple pre-made text file of royalty free, free to use private or commerical licence directing all attributions to Vol-de-Mort Company? May 13 at 11:14
  • I absolutely can. I'd hope to avoid this this however, companies get nervous when you force their hand on such things. They're afraid of feeling less professional in front of stakeholders and customers, even if the fear is silly. I've personally had to give up on some amazing projects in a previous role because the boss was nervous about the way things were written in the license, thus defeating the point. May 13 at 23:58
  • But this is what some of the free licenses insist on. They force you to include a pre-made text file. I don't see why you can't insist on a text file. Are companies that fearful of including a simple text file? You have got to be joking! May 14 at 11:08

4 Answers 4

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If you have a registered trademark for your company name, brands and logos, then you can forbid re-use of those things by not giving out licenses to use your trademarks. This works independent from any copyright licenses.

So, you can release your policies under a Creative Commons license, like CC-BY 4.0 and add an explicit statement to your distribution package, for example in a README file, that <list of items> are trademarked and explicitly not licensed to the recipients. This is not a legal requirement, but a way to make it abundantly clear that references to your company should be removed.

Using trademark protection in this way does not prevent people from stating a truth (this policy is based on the policy of Company X), but it does prevent people from passing their version off as yours.

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  • Thank you, I believe this is the way to go. I hadn't considered the strength of trademarks. It's reminiscent of Red Hat's model, actually. May 14 at 0:04
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    May I suggest that if you are posting this document (or whatever it is) someplace where others can download it and use it, that you replace all instances of your company name with "[your company name here]" or some such. To prevent someone from accidentally leaving a reference. Ditto for your logo, address, phone number, or any other company-specific information.
    – Jay
    May 14 at 15:42
  • @Jay Agreed. I've decided to use a combination of the answers provided here, but of course, you can't partially accept multiple answers :) May 15 at 0:34
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Release unbranded policies as open-source - I'd look at CC BY or the CC0 Public Domain Dedication, but there may be others. Your company's branded policies would effectively be a fork of the unbranded open-source policies.

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  • The reason I'd like to include my brand name is that I want to direct both external companies and my developers straight to the GitHub page as a central location. All historical changes come with their attached history right there in public view (which promotes transparency), and the public gains insights into why things changed. It also demonstrates to the public that we don't seek to conceal our internal dealings. May 13 at 1:34
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    You can still release your policy unbranded (replace your actual company name with "COMPANY NAME" or similar) with a link to your Github page. Although if it's actually open source, anyone can just remove the link to your Github page. (Yes, yes, GFDL and invariant sections. Not getting into the fight as to whether the GFDL is open source or not). May 13 at 8:03
  • @aggregate1166877 Philip has a good point, but there are other ways to achieve what you want. You can still have a license file with the copyright statements indicating your company, a readme file, other types of credit or attribution files, a changelog file. Without knowing where you are hosting it and the format of the files, I can't be specific, but leaving the company name out of the files and constrained to other places would solve your issue. May 13 at 11:00
  • @ThomasOwens Assuming a typical open source license which requires the copyright statement to be maintained, having the company name in the copyright statement is inconsistent with the poster's requirement that "they MUST change or delete all instances of my company name from the text" (maybe depending on what counts as "text"). May 13 at 11:37
  • @PhilipKendall I wouldn't consider "text" to include a license file or some other kind of "help" documentation, like a readme file or a contributors file. Perhaps some more clarity is needed on that front. May 13 at 11:54
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The obvious solution is to "boilerplate" the open-source version with a placeholder company name. People using this document would then be forced to edit it themselves if they want it to apply to their company.

For these policies in use by your company? Fork the boilerplate version to create your own version, and fill in your company name in the forked version. Assuming the files are plain text, it will be easy to merge future versions.

As regards the company name in these documents, users of this document will need to be aware that if their company name has not been filled in appropriately, the document will most likely not be legally applicable for their employees/contractors/suppliers/customers. Making the boilerplate version clear on this will make it easy for people to reuse it.

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    You could improve on this by including a small script to "release" documentation by performing the boilerplate replacements, ie build-docs.sh "My Company" output-folder/. Then just run the build script before publishing the documents to your website, intranet, online docs or whatever. If added as something like a github action you could trigger the build/deploy each time a change is approved. This approach also makes it easier for external developers to push back commits for their own unbranded changes (assuming public changes are something you want)
    – SpliFF
    May 13 at 15:53
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Many open source licenses specifically explain that trademarks are not included in the copyright grant. For example, this text is part of the Apache license:

  1. Trademarks.

This License does not grant permission to use the trade names, trademarks, service marks, or product names of the Licensor, except as required for reasonable and customary use in describing the origin of the Work and reproducing the content of the NOTICE file.

As such, you have your choice of many licenses you could use which exclude your trademarks.

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  • This is good advice, thank you for the insight. 2 days ago

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