Can you fork a MIT licensed project, discard the code, and keep only the name?

Say I wanted to piggyback on top of a popular MIT licensed project name for marketing purposes, but not use any of its code. Is this possible?


No. You can not. The project's name is protected by Trademark, which is a separate issue entirely from Copyright. The MIT license grants you, as a consumer, certain rights that would otherwise be unavailable because of the Copyright protection.

To keep it simple:

  • Copyright protects the code.
  • Trademark protects the name.
  • The MIT license affects what you can do with the code, not the name.
  • 2
    Why do you say "No. You can not"? It's a separate issue, as you observed, from licensing. Oct 7 '15 at 14:07
  • 3
    OK, so say, "No, you cannot, if the project's name is trademarked." I have released software without getting a trademark, and others have changed its behavior and redistributed executables without changing the name or mentioning that they have changed the code. Oct 7 '15 at 14:27
  • 2
    @GlennRanders-Pehrson, you don't have to register your name with any official entity to enjoy trademark protection. Proprietary rights in relation to a trademark may be established through actual use in the marketplace.
    – RubberDuck
    Oct 7 '15 at 14:30
  • 1
    Thanks, I am not a lawyer and was not aware of that fact. Oct 7 '15 at 14:38
  • 3
    The "actual use" trademark protection doesn't exist in all jurisdictions. I can't find anything in the US trademark law (Lanham Act) about it. It does say you have to use the trademark to maintain trademark protection. Oct 7 '15 at 14:56

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