As the owner of a company that has a Web application, I would like to make that code freely available for people to contribute code to.

There are several places where this is a specific application, not very suitable for forking:

  • Our copyrighted logo will be included in the repo
  • It will depend on an Api that is paywalled - so this application is highly coupled with a closed Api.

Is there still good reason to open source this project (and if so, how, since it includes copyrighted assets)? Or does it make more sense to publish the code with a copyright notice only?

  • 3
    What are your motivations for open sourcing the project? What is your business case? Would you be fine if a competitor clones your web app? Btw the logo is only a minor concern here as it is protected by trademark law.
    – amon
    Aug 16, 2018 at 19:10
  • 1
    Motivations: the context that this came from is a personal motivation. That is for me, as an engineer, to demonstrate how I've built a working production system. There is no direct business case. If it was cloned, probably that would not be beneficial, but it would be lacking any of the content that fills the app with content that people pay for. This is coming more down to a decision of "is it safe enough for the company to share copyrighted code", and that's something that I need to answer elsewhere it seems.
    – eoinoc
    Aug 17, 2018 at 4:53

1 Answer 1


Our copyrighted logo will be included in the repo

This is no bar. All the code you write is copyrighted, and that's not a bar to publishing it - the question is what kind of licence you wish to give end-users. It's perfectly fine to publish the code under a copyleft licence, but allow (eg) only verbatim reproduction of your logo image, and that only when used with unmodified code. Many mainstream open source projects do something like that; firefox (and the consequent iceweasel fork) come to mind. It's probably not a great idea to include a logo if you grant no copying or redistribution rights, though; just leave it out in the first place.

It will depend on an Api that is paywalled - so this application is highly coupled with a closed Api.

I can't quite parse this, because an API would have to be part of the client-side code. I think you mean "this application talks to paywalled network resources", and if you do, it's fine to publish an open-source client whose principal purpose is to talk to your non-free network service. It's very common in the Android world; literally fifteen seconds scrolling through my f-droid turns up mundraub, the first of many free (GPLv3) clients which talk to non-free network services (in this case, https://mundraub.org/).

Why is this desirable? Firstly, because legitimate users of the non-free service might want a free client to talk to it. I can't use the apps of any of my banks, much as I'd like to, because those apps are non-free, and I won't run non-free software. Secondly, because people building comparable apps to talk to other network services can then modify your code instead of starting from scratch, and as long as your code was strong-copylefted everyone benefits from all this work.

If instead you mean "this client would have to use proprietary API code", then it's not a good candidate for freedom.

  • 2
    The copyright of the logo is almost certainly not relevant here. It's presumably a trademark, which is governed by different laws. Nobody else could use it without your permission (except maybe in an unrelated field). Firefox vs. Iceweasel was a matter of trademarks rather than copyrights. Aug 21, 2018 at 17:15
  • I agree, but didn't want to muddy the waters with a lengthy tangential point, which is why I said something like that. Also, it would be perfectly possible to do what Mozilla did but to predicate it on the copyright license of the logo, instead of the trademark license - and the copyright is what the OP asked about.
    – MadHatter
    Aug 22, 2018 at 5:45

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