How big open source companies (Mozilla, Apache, Mysql) enforce their rights for their published code as open source.

Take the case of Mozilla, which has invested in the development of its source code, how it can guarantee the cleanliness of its code to prevent infringements, for example code piracy or the creation of a new browser with its published source code, we are talking about the legal side which normally requires an approach that must be taken for the protection of intellectual property.

The same case for a project that has just launched on Github for example, how can one legally grant the ownership of the code to avoid infringements?

  • 1
    What do you mean by "cleanliness of [Firefox's] source code" or "creation of a new browser"? Both creating a derivative work with 'unclean' code and creating new browsers based on Mozilla's source code are allowed by the license.
    – Brandin
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 5:04
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    @Brandin I recommend reading the author's other questions. (S)he seems to have some grave misunderstandings about (a) copyright and (b) free software development.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 8:40
  • @Brandin i mean the source code property and i think i am confused with the proprietary software, in another way how Firefox for example proves that it is the source code owner. in the other case, you said it is possible to take the code from Firefox and create another browser with its code? But like that it is possible to create hundreds of navigator with the code which will cause negative financial cases for Firefox since it is invested on its code. Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 21:49
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    @devjelopanje That question is already answered here: What are the benefits of having an open sourced software?
    – Brandin
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 6:05
  • Icewezel and some other browsers are based on firefox. Mozila are OK with it. The licence says it is OK. See the Free Software definition: gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 16:12

1 Answer 1


In any nation that is signatory to the Berne Convention, copyright (i.e., a monopoly on redistribution, derivatives, public display, etc.) is automatically in force for the author of a creative work. An author may use license to grant some rights to other people, and, even when using a free/open license, may place requirements on reuse, such as requiring attribution or copyleft terms. Anyone who exercises a copyright-restricted right without meeting the requirements of the author's license is liable to pay damages if sued in a court of law.

It's possible to register your copyright, though not necessary (in the U.S.) until you actually initiate a lawsuit. In the U.S., if you register your copyrighted work before infringement takes place, you can claim extra money in court, called "statutory damages", on top of whatever "actual damages" the infringement caused you. I expect that corporate-run open source projects may register their work in the Copyright Office, but I don't know.

For practical enforcement, the only real tools available to combat infringement are

  1. Hire a lawyer and take your infringer to court
  2. Threaten to do item #1 (this is less costly but may be sometimes less effective)

If you license your work under a free/open license and cannot afford a lawyer, the Open Source Initiative or Free Software Foundation may be responsive to a request for legal assistance in some form or another.

It seems like you may also be worried about a few other possibilities:

  • Someone violates your license and tries to pretend like they're the original author of your code. This is quite a bold move, and unlikely to succeed in a world where history of commits is either a matter of public record or at least privately logged by code-hosting providers. This seems to be more likely (though still extremely unlikely) for a project that doesn't conduct all development publicly.

  • Someone takes your code to make a clone of your project. This is explicitly allowed by all free and open source licenses, and is called a "fork". The fork still has to follow your license requirements (like attribution or copyleft) but otherwise may be as similar or different from your original project as the maintainer of the fork likes. Trademark law may prevent a fork from reusing your project name or logo.

  • A developer contributes code to your project, but it turns out they lacked legal permission to make that contribution, e.g., because it belonged to an employer or similar. This is a difficult case to handle, but generally projects deal with it by making contributors legally accept responsibility if any of their code turns out to be itself infringing. This is often done via a Contributor License Agreement (CLA) or a Developer Certificate of Origin (DCO).

  • Again the answer is not touched, maybe there's a confusion with the proprietary software and let me go back to ask the question in another way. if I have open source project now and I publish it on Github by putting a license with him whether it is license GPL, Apache or other, is that enough? and how can i prove that i'm the owner of the code? Concerning FSF or OSI, in which case we have to contact them, before the deposit the code on github or just in case Infraction? Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 21:42
  • "Is that enough?" -- Yes. You have rights under copyright, and you may share them with other people by saying "I share these rights with everyone in this way...!" A license document is way to say that in a legally clear way, formally specifying the rights granted and what rules need to be followed. See gnu.org/licenses/gpl-howto.en.html and apache.org/dev/apply-license.html#new for examples.
    – apsillers
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 22:38
  • "How can I prove I'm the owner of the code?" -- To whom do you want to prove this? If you are pursuing legal action against an infringer, see my first bullet point. If you want to prove authorship so another project will accept your contribution, see my third bullet point.
    – apsillers
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 22:39
  • Agree and in case of infringement we will based on internet history to prove the source code ownership and we can refer to FSF or OSI to request assistance. That's it ? Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 22:49
  • That's it. Regarding the FSF and OSI, they chiefly catalogue (and sometimes author new) licenses that meet their standards. They sometimes offer legal assistance, but they do so freely at their own discretion. You do not need to be listed in any kind of registry of free/open projects: when you ask for help, the FSF or OSI will plainly see whether or not your project is under a free/open license that is in need of enforcement.
    – apsillers
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 22:50

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