Case: I developed a software and uploaded it to Github with MIT license.

To apply the license, I created a LICENSE file with MIT license preamble (as mentioned in choosealicense.com)

Somebody cloned(not by forking) my repository, modified the LICENSE file to remove my name and added his instead. He then re-uploaded the project to Github under his name.

So, my questions are:

  • Is this legal to do such modification ?
  • What should I do as a owner of the repository ?

3 Answers 3


Is this legal to do such modification?

Answer no.

New question: Can you do anything against this?

On court: Yes, if you have registered it or at least send a postal copy to yourself. Actually it could be that the person intends to register copyright on his/her own and even sue you for copyright infringement... could.

On GitHub directly: Yes: File a DMCA takedown notice (see below).

What should I do as a owner of the repository?

Beforehand: make sure to have a good position to claim your copyright later (as written before).

After this issue happened: Contact the changing person politely and ask for his/her intentions. If I'm not wrong GitHub repos have automatically an Issue tracker which you should use, providing links to your repo. It could be that the person doesn't know you have an online repo (e.g. was given the source somewhere) and it could be that the person want to do changes that you want to include. Therefore it would be good to think about how you want to accept contributions and make this clear within your README.md or similar.

In any case I'd suggest to kindly ask to recreate the repository with a fork (showing the ancestry and making it more easy to share changes).

After you did this or if there is no response within some days (I won't wait longer than 2 weeks) you can file a File a DMCA takedown notice at GitHub.

  • 3
    @Richard: You should bear in mind you cannot retract the existing MIT license, although you could stop contributing under it. There will not be an open-source license that puts additional constraints on re-publishing (because then the license would not be free). However, as per this answer, the re-publishing that has been done is already in violation of your copyright license, i.e. it is something your MIT license does not permit - it could be fixed by the fork adding your name back in. Feb 13, 2017 at 20:20
  • 4
    The copyright registration is not really needed in the US, unless you want to go nuclear with a lawsuit. Feb 13, 2017 at 22:37
  • 1
    And in other countries, it may not be needed even for a lawsuit. As for the other suing you if they register the copyright first, this is not how it works!
    – Zimm i48
    Feb 14, 2017 at 8:14
  • 1
    Having published the code publicly before the copyright registration seems like plenty of proof to me.
    – Zimm i48
    Feb 14, 2017 at 8:32
  • 3
    @Richard This is a completely different question, please create a new one for this if you want an intense discussion / multiple answers (doesn't need the full background, only the "people don't agree to fork"). Short answer: You cannot do anything about it, he is free to do changes with the MIT-Licensed version like he wants to. For allowing him (and you) to do easy merges of changes done in the future it is likely easier if he "forks" via GitHub which would also be a way of honoring your work, but this is a different point. Feb 14, 2017 at 12:14

Is this legal to do such modification ?

Absolutely not.

What should I do as a owner of the repository ?

You should follow GitHub's DMCA process. This involves sending a complaint to Github. The infringing user will be given the opportunity to fix the problem or to contest your claim. But if they do not, then GitHub should remove their repository.

  • 3
    Before going nukelar with a DMCA takedown, what about contacting the author first? Feb 13, 2017 at 22:35
  • 6
    99.9999999999999% of the time this is caused by ignorance or incompetence rather than malice. So do not assume anything and instead do the right thing first: ask politely to restore the copyright. Feb 13, 2017 at 22:41
  • 3
    In my case contacting the victim fixed the issue, he told that he accidently replaced my name. He instantly updated the LICENSE file with original one, although he didn't agreed to fork due to some other problems, should I allow this?
    – Mrigank
    Feb 14, 2017 at 11:58
  • 3
    @curiousdannii The other person want to use GitHub but not clone the repo in an "official" and "viewable" way via GitHub's "fork" feature. If we knew the reasons (given in a different question as this is a topic drift from the original one) we may advise something but obviously there's nothing the op can force (the license doesn't say "you can do what you want as long as you use GitHub's fork feature"). Feb 14, 2017 at 12:18
  • 1
    None has to use Github's forking to create a fork. A clone pushed to anew repo is prefectly fine in my game. This is Git, a DVCS, and repos do not have to be related to be derived from each other :) ... a fork could live at Bitbucket, sourceforge or anywhere else.. Feb 15, 2017 at 19:30

This is pretty much the only thing you cannot do with something licensed under the MIT license: basically the only condition is

The above copyright notice [(c) year by author] and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

Removing the copyright notice is a breach of the licensing conditions. It may also constitute fraud if there have been no substantial changes to the software and the author tries to claim to be the copyright owner to substantial parts of the software for which he made no recognizable contribution: basically a form of plagiarism.

Now the MIT license is classified as "permissive" and that guy might have just thought it to be the same as "public domain". So he may consider himself entitled to his actions. Pointing out his mistake in a manner likely to make him wish to correct it is the art of license enforcement.

Going before court is the last step. In general you want to avoid that since your options are getting him prosecuted for criminal copyright violation (for which it is not easy to get the prosecution interested), or sue for civil damages. With a permissive license, proving actual damage may be very hard. So you basically are down to "cease&desist" and all lawyering costs on your side will likely not get reimbursed.

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