Thursday, October 10, 2013
Someone "Closed" My Open Source Software
The next level? And speaking of the real world, assuming your friend had a strong legal position (which we're not sure he has), is he willing to take things to the next level -- that is, is he willing to pursue his legal claim by hiring a lawyer or filing a lawsuit? Such actions would only be worthwhile if there were substantial profits generated from the "stolen" code. (If you can determine the profitability of the second project that could help determine your course of action.) Otherwise, the pursuit would be a Pyrrhic victory.
Who owns what? The failure to include a license agreement or a TOS (terms of service) doesn't preclude your friend from claiming copyright on his original code. In fact, the failure to include an open source license works against the belief that the software actually is open source because open source by its nature requires a license (and in many cases an assignment of copyright). However, posting a notice that others are authorized to freely copy and modify the code would likely shield any persons who took or modified the code.
The contribution. As for the code "contribution," assuming that the other guy owned rights in the contribution, he would have either created an implied license (for use in your friend's code) or he would have created a joint work and become a co-author (unlikely but possible -- somebody would have to evaluate the code and the contribution). Under an implied license, the other guy could possibly ask to have his work removed from subsequent versions because his implied license was only intended for a specific version. If it's a joint work, removing the code would not be an option. As for making it closed software, if your friend retained copyright and it's not a joint work, he could claim infringement (see "The next level," above). If it is a joint work, your friend could claim some percentage (presumably half) of the revenues earned by the other guy (but again, that involves taking it to the next level).