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In the situation that you know your code was used as reference to write other code (e.g., you had a conversation with said person who referenced your work as the structure to follow when they were writing their library, and you've recently found out that they are distributing their library), are they obligated to include the MIT license crediting you in their derivative work?

To clarify, I say "used as reference" in opposition to "copied and modified." So, I'm asking in the case that the code was not copied and modified.

For reference, the MIT license is as follows (emphasis added by me):

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.

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  • The elements of how you used it as a reference are critical to whether your work is a derivative work, but there aren't any useful broad rules you can apply to reliably make your determination, so therefore this is off topic. – whatsisname Mar 22 '17 at 17:32
  • @whatsisname The API calls are the same, the implementations of the API calls use the same algorithms, and the only thing changed was how data was initialized in the program, and that an external library was added to change the "flavor" of the algorithms that were re-used. Is that specific enough? – Patrick Roberts Mar 22 '17 at 17:36
  • I would be more specific, but I don't want to turn this question into a shaming post, since I am only seeking clarification on the matter. – Patrick Roberts Mar 22 '17 at 17:40
  • Well you're at an impasse then because the specifics are what matters. We can't answer it for you. – whatsisname Mar 22 '17 at 17:45
  • @whatsisname counter-point in case. This is just as generalized as my question, and there's a perfectly good answer for it. – Patrick Roberts Mar 22 '17 at 17:47
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Not a lawyer so I could be completely wrong but to the best of my knowledge it depends on the process used, just as when creating an open source implementation of a proprietary, closed source, program.

When moving from proprietary to open source it is considered OK if you write your own code based on the public API and by reverse engineering - i.e. characterising and comparing behaviour but not OK if you get a copy of the existing source code or use a decompiler to get something directly based on it.

Arguing from that, with the directions reversed, if someone has the source code open all of the time while they are creating their own version they are creating a derived work but if they simply refer to the public API and characterising the behaviour they should be OK.

Some, serious, companies or teams that are involved in this sort of thing will use two teams, one that performs the reverse engineering and another, with no access to the original project, is passed a specification & test suite that they have to pass.

I would say that it would be nice to give at least attribution for the inspiration and personally would try to ensure that that was done.

The real guys to ask are the Free Software Foundation, FSF, note I am an ordinary member, read supporter, of the FSF.

The above is my personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of my employer or any other organisation that I am affiliated with.

  • "if someone has the source code open all of the time while they are creating their own version" That's exactly what's happening. So in your professional opinion, credit is due in this case? – Patrick Roberts Mar 22 '17 at 18:19
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    In my personal opinion if someone has been inspired by someone else they should make attribution with some indication of the level of inspiration. If they are looking at existing code and effectively re-typing with different names, etc., then that is copying, rather than being inspired by, and in my personal opinion they should be bound by the original licence. Talk to the FSF they should be able to help clarify. – Steve Barnes Mar 22 '17 at 18:43
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Yes if you use the someone code which has MIT license then your code is MIT licensed and you can protect your application using LGPL.

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

When I was at Linuxcon, opensource community, mentioned its not encourageable to create new licenses, I have seen many just creating ton lots of license I just bewildered what to pick.

MIT License, info.

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    "You cant patent software code, if you use MIT license or other open source licence" could you provide a source for that, because I don't think it's true. – MadHatter supports Monica Mar 23 '17 at 6:32
  • @madHatter, Well that's how it is in the projects I worked, we patterned mostly the hardware design not the software. Perhaps my interpretation might be wrong on patenting the software on the basis of MIT license. Well to me patent is invention you can't patent if you use open source you need to use GPL and LGPL for that, that's what I read in books and licensing documents in need but I agree with you these are information, I don't claim it's true. – danglingpointer Mar 23 '17 at 7:46
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    If I were writing something that was an opinion, I'd prefix it with "I think that...", and I certainly wouldn't include it in a quote block, which very much makes it look as if you're citing some authority. – MadHatter supports Monica Mar 23 '17 at 10:35
  • @LethalProgrammer you can't patent the MIT parts, but you can patent your code. MIT is pretty much a 'you are free to use our code, no strings attached' licence. – Display name Mar 23 '17 at 10:35
  • @Orangesandlemons just for clarification, you're saying you can't patent the MIT part because someone else invented it, not because of any licence it may or may not come under? – MadHatter supports Monica Mar 23 '17 at 10:36

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