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I run a free website that lets users pull data out of a database that I maintain. Sometimes users make suggestions as to improvements to existing reports or new reports they would like to see. While most are good suggestions, I don't always have time to implement them (I maintain the site in my free time).

I would like to put on GitHub the Perl/MySQL code that generates everything that the users see to allow those that want to make improvements on their own to do so and I can simply push them into production. I'll probably post a small sample database that they can use to confirm their contributions work.

If they want to use any portion of my code in other projects, I'm fine with that. If they want to download my entire database and modify my code on their personal web server so they can get the exact reports they want, I'm fine with that. If they want to download my entire database and create their own public front-end for it based on my code, I'm fine with that.

The only thing that really worries me is someone downloading my entire database and code, modifying the code to harm users in some way, and then publishing it on their own webserver(s) with domain name(s) close to mine and pretending to be my site. There are already sites with domain names close to mine targeting my users

How do I maintain enough copyright in my code to take down any copycat sites while putting it on GitHub for anyone to use in any other way?

  • 1
    Unfortunately, a term such as "you may not use this software to make a copycat site" would make your software non-Open Source. Besides, even if you wrote such a term in your license, how would you define which type of copying is permissible and which is not? – Brandin Mar 19 '18 at 8:35
  • I don't think that copyright will help. If people are doing as you say, then they are already breaking laws (including in EU “computer miss use act”). – ctrl-alt-delor Mar 19 '18 at 8:40
  • @Brandin If code is released on GitHub, but with a statement like that making it "non-Open Source", what is it called? The source is still "open" as in available. – Pascal Mar 19 '18 at 23:21
  • @Pascal Not open source. See the Open Source Definition. – Brandin Mar 20 '18 at 6:26
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Copyright isn't the right tool for this: trademarks are. Copyright governs how code and data may be used, but trademarks govern the regulation of names and identities generally.

With a registered trademark you may be able to petition that the copycat's misleading sites and domains can be taken down, especially if you can demonstrate that they are harmful. It won't be easy, but it will help you maintain the integrity and reputation of your own safe site.

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As well as trademarks, copyright some images (just a simple copyright with no license). Put them on the site. It will not help people that are already breaking the law, but will stop most legit companies, and give you legal powers.

So all about branding. There are many projects that do not include branding in the licence. Many allow use of branding in verbatim copies, but you would not.

I would also avoid putting the branding on github. To avoid accidental infringement. This will protect you and the people creating the derivative. You want it as clear as possible. That they are not allowed to use your branding.

Unfortunately this will not stop “bad people” from taking the branding from your live site.

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For what it's worth, preventing copycats may just be an impossible task. I'm not a web guy by any stretch of the imagination, so take what I say with a grain of salt. But the truth is, the Internet is full of scammers and criminals with malicious intent. People are out there stealing bank account numbers, credit cards, Social Security numbers, account details, personal information, you name it. Do you really think a software license is going to stop such people from simply cloning your repository and using it for evil? Regardless of legal status or protections, the practical reality is, when you host your code on GitHub, you open yourself up to the possibility of people using it incorrectly. You still shouldn't let that stop you from sharing if that's what you believe is right. And you can still take steps to do right by your users, such as alerting them to known scams. But no, on a practical level, your choice of license will not stop someone who is already willing to break the law to harm innocent people. Neither will any other legal protections. That's where law enforcement comes in. At the end of the day, you can just appreciate that the MIT License reduces your own liability.

  • Yes, there will be copycats no matter what I do. What I was looking for is enough ownership over the code that I can send a takedown notice to the hosting provider of the copycat site to get it removed, or have some standing to complain about it to law enforcement. I'm afraid if I just release it under an open source license I'll have no leg to stand on. – Pascal Mar 23 '18 at 23:05

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