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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?

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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.
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    Why do you say "No. You can not"? It's a separate issue, as you observed, from licensing. – Glenn Randers-Pehrson Oct 7 '15 at 14:07
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    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. – Glenn Randers-Pehrson Oct 7 '15 at 14:27
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    @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
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    Thanks, I am not a lawyer and was not aware of that fact. – Glenn Randers-Pehrson Oct 7 '15 at 14:38
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    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. – Glenn Randers-Pehrson Oct 7 '15 at 14:56

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