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#1 Recoil  Icon User is offline

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What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 08:58 AM

Currently I have been working on an open source program. All of the code I have written, and have gotten help with from here has not been released with another build of the program.

But the open source project is no longer doing anything, and I seem to be the only one doing any kind of work on my copy of the software. It is covered under GNU General Public License. But since no one is working on this program except myself, and I wanted to start my own program (closed source) using just the code I have written, and replacing the other less efficient code with code of my own, is that considered stealing code?

I have googled and been reading a grip of articles on the subject, but I cannot find anything that covers just starting over. I'm just curious about writing new code on my own program what parts of it would be considered stealing, so I can keep from doing this?

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Replies To: What is considered stealing open source code?

#2 PsychoCoder  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 09:33 AM

Well if you're using code someone else wrote in an application you plan on making money on some may not consider it stealing but at the very least unethical, unless you plan on compensating the author(s) of the code in question, but that's just my take on it
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#3 Recoil  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 09:49 AM

What I was thinking is that all of the stuff I have written for my copy, using it. None of the original code would be used as more efficient code would replace that altogether, but it would theoretically perform the same function as the original code...I'll just credit the original code as the base of my application. I have no intentions of trying to make money with this code, I just don't want any of my work to become public since I am the only one going through the effort of trying to advance the program.

Thanks.
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#4 Oler1s  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 02:11 PM

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I wanted to start my own program (closed source) using just the code I have written
Only your code then. If it uses or links to code written by others, you violate the GPL. That's because the other code was contributed under the GPL license, right?

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is that considered stealing code?
It's considered a license violation if you form a derivative work. "Derivative" as in sense of copyright, not what you would like it to mean. So unless your closed source program is completely free of everyone else' code, you would be violating the GPL.

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but I cannot find anything that covers just starting over
You aren't starting over. You are forking. You are forking from your own project, but it's forking nonetheless.

But as you noted, you will use none of the original code. So GPL violation isn't possible, since you never derive from GPL code.

EDIT: I'm of course assuming there are no patents, etc. involved here.

This post has been edited by Oler1s: 18 April 2010 - 02:12 PM

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#5 Recoil  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 04:41 PM

I guess it is all the really simple stuff that is hard to determine what would be considered stealing. Such as the other program has a message box event, mine has the same one...what's to say that everyone who uses the same messagebox message in their program isn't violating in some way or another.

Another similar thing is clients that connect a certain way to a server. If mine did the same thing but with different protocols, would I then be in violation... Or simply renaming all the variables but generally having the same effect...

I think that covers how some of this is quite confusing. I was really just curious about it in general. Since what I am wanting to do is for private use, it wouldn't matter if I were to copy every line of code as I wouldn't be publishing it as my own. But if I were ever to the point of sharing the work I plan on doing with the world, I'd want the credit but would not feel obligated to share the source, hence "forking" from the original source and doing a rewrite with all original code, plus the code I have personally done on the other source.

To be safe in this instance and remain ethically intact, I am just going to reference the places and code examples I have used to help me out with getting my program where it is (or will be).

Thanks guys!
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#6 Oler1s  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 08:55 PM

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure I'm right in what I'm saying.

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To be safe in this instance and remain ethically intact, I am just going to reference the places and code examples I have used to help me out with getting my program where it is
Ok, but that's a problem. You aren't developing something independently. You are being aided by existing code. It might be hand coded by you, as opposed to copy paste, but still, you're not engineering something from scratch.

Let's take an example. Let's say you work for Widget company (that makes Widget software). You decide to leave their company and form a competing product (Gadget software). Perfectly legal. To do so, you look at the code of Widget software, and use that to help you create Gadget software.

Are you in the clear because you all code in Gadget software is completely yours, and does not involve Widget software? No. You did not engineer the code independently. Instead, you used Widget software as a basis. This puts you in legal hotwater.

Taking a product, rewriting everything in your code, and then distributing it with a bunch of credits is not OK. If you see projects like emulators and what not that step into legal grey areas, they are very certain to reverse engineer by themselves, and not by assistance from any official documentation, code, etc.. For a good reason.

The beginning of your post treads into topics of software patents etc., which is not something discusses in a few forum posts. But as for your current situation:

Talk to the people who worked on your project. Have them all OK what you are doing. You can describe to them what you described here. No original code. Etc. But you are using their work as a basis.
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#7 johnmatthais  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 09:03 PM

In my opinion, GPL is a really tough thing to deal with, because it's open source software. Just read through the license and all of its clauses and decide what you think is best.

The thing is that you're not stealing patented or copyrighted code, so emulators aren't a good example to use here in comparison.

You really just have to equate your situation to previous open source efforts that have been under GPL.

One thing to remember: If you're not looking to sell the program, or to copyright it in any manner, you should be fine regardless. It was open source to begin with, so you're not distributing an identical alternative to a paid piece of software or anything like it.

This post has been edited by johnmatthais: 18 April 2010 - 09:07 PM

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#8 Oler1s  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 09:22 PM

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In my opinion, GPL is a really tough thing to deal with, because it's open source software.
It has nothing to do with GPL or open source software. It has to do with that you are creating a product while using knowledge owned by someone else. Without licensing/ownership given to that someone else. It also has nothing to do with software. If an engineer who leaves Toyota creates a car component awfully like what Toyota builds, using information owned by Toyota (their designs, research, etc.), that engineer will be in legal hot water.

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The thing is that you're not stealing patented or copyrighted code, so emulators aren't a good example to use here in comparison.
Neither are emulators. They aren't stealing anything. They are providing functionality. My point is that such functionality was created independently, not based on private information.

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If you're not looking to sell the program, or to copyright it in any manner, you should be fine regardless.
No, you won't.

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It was open source to begin with, so you're not distributing an identical alternative to a paid piece of software or anything like it.
It doesn't matter if it's open source or closed source.
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#9 johnmatthais  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 18 April 2010 - 09:37 PM

Woah, woah, woah, so you mean to tell me that open source software, which is open sourced for the purpose of being reused, is going to put you in legal hot water while under GPL, even if you were one of the prime contributors to that code?

Really, where are you getting that idea?

The comparison to Toyota and other competing companies is horrible. That's comparing making something that is actively being sold, and is under a strictly closed, lock-and-key, copyrighted source, and then copying it to make a profit, to trying to use an open source, under GPL product that you wrote most of to begin with to finish off something that you started and close sourcing it because it's your own work.

EDIT:

GPL Preamble said:

The licenses for most software and other practical works are designed to take away your freedom to share and change the works. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change all versions of a program--to make sure it remains free software for all its users. We, the Free Software Foundation, use the GNU General Public License for most of our software; it applies also to any other work released this way by its authors. You can apply it to your programs, too.

When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for them if you wish), that you receive source code or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs, and that you know you can do these things.

'Nuff said.

This post has been edited by johnmatthais: 18 April 2010 - 09:46 PM

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#10 Recoil  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 19 April 2010 - 05:06 AM

First I should say that I wrote none of the original code. I picked up on it right after the last build of the current open source. However, I have made some advancements for my copy of this code. The stuff I have done has not been released to the public, aside from what few snippets of code I have posted on the forums in trying to advance further. The only other people that are using the code are people who do not want to be involved with trying to figure out how to advance it...they just wait until someone else does something.

But from what I am gathering from the GNU agreement is that I can do anything I want with this. I can sell or make whatever I want to...until it comes to the source, then I have to distribute it as free... Not a problem as I am quite sure I will never have enough money to hire actual programmers to work on any portion of any advancements I make that are entirely separate from the original source. Not to mention the idea isn't really groundbreaking here.

Although making a 2D OPRG isn't something that is copyrighted, there is jack for examples in VB.NET, and like many other hobbyist programmers, am stuck referring to whatever I can find on google, or the assistance I can get from more advanced programmers here (please, no comments about making a game in vb.net).

I'm not copying the blueprints for a VCR here, just using the underlying idea that is already there to achieve a certain design. The only way I am really being assisted by the original code is by knowing what not-to-do, because the idea itself is an attempt to upgrade current VB6 projects already circulating the web. I highly doubt anything I do with this will violate any form of what is already been violated by the same people coming here with the fantabulous request of making an MMORPG for fun and profit.

Whether I continue with the open source, or just close it off completely for anything else I do is still up in the air, but this post does clear up the ethical part of what I was really trying to understand.
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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 19 April 2010 - 06:36 AM

I really don't see why you can't use it as a reference and recreate it with your own code. It's a bit unethical, and bad practice to do so, but in general, when you get stuck, people tell you to reference other people's code anyways (most likely an open source work). How is this any different?

Just my last two cents.
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#12 Oler1s  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 19 April 2010 - 11:47 AM

johnmatthais said:

Woah, woah, woah, so you mean to tell me that open source software, which is open sourced for the purpose of being reused, is going to put you in legal hot water while under GPL, even if you were one of the prime contributors to that code?
Open source refers to the license. Just because you contributed doesn't mean that you own the code wholly. The license terms apply to you too.

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Really, where are you getting that idea?
Reality. Have you ever submitted patches or contributed to a major open source project before? There's usually terms you have to agree to beforehand. Implicitly it's that your code is under the license of that project, but it often gets stated explicitly too. Furthermore, sometimes you are told that in giving your code, you also give away your copyright to the organization or person behind the product.

But in general, you can read about open source and patents issue, and it's eye opening. Open source software is not public domain. Open source software and public domain software are not free from copyright, patent, and related laws.

Recoil said:

I can sell or make whatever I want to...until it comes to the source, then I have to distribute it as free
To be more specific, someone who purchases binaries should be able to acquire the source for no more than a nominal (cost of distribution or something) fee. For example, if I fork the same project, and sell only the source for $1000, that's fine. If I however, sell the binary for $1000, then that source code should not be costing anything extra.

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I'm not copying the blueprints for a VCR here, just using the underlying idea that is already there to achieve a certain design.
Not quite. You are deriving from existing solutions. Code is more than just what's on the screen. It's a reflection of solved problems with pen and paper. Rather than recreating a solution by yourself, you are using existing solved solution to do so. I.e. you derive from it.

If you were to recreate everything inspired by functionality, that's fine. But you're using an existing solution as the base. That makes your work derivative of that. You're clearly not using general concepts like for loops and what not. You are using a specific solution (existing code) for a specific problem, to form the same solution, albeit in your own hand. Not ok.

This post has been edited by Oler1s: 19 April 2010 - 11:52 AM

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#13 Recoil  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 19 April 2010 - 12:54 PM

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Not quite. You are deriving from existing solutions. Code is more than just what's on the screen. It's a reflection of solved problems with pen and paper. Rather than recreating a solution by yourself, you are using existing solved solution to do so. I.e. you derive from it.

If you were to recreate everything inspired by functionality, that's fine. But you're using an existing solution as the base. That makes your work derivative of that. You're clearly not using general concepts like for loops and what not. You are using a specific solution (existing code) for a specific problem, to form the same solution, albeit in your own hand. Not ok.


That's what I was intending to do, recreate the functionality of the original source, and only use the code I have messed with for the original source, that has not been submitted yet. Pretty much taking my code, then building something from scratch and using my own code, to create a set of programs that function "similarly" to the original code, without having to reference anything I did not chose to.

Needless to say this is very confusing about some people think is violating a license, and others do not. My plan is just to finish the design doc for the engine and just start from scratch...then I don't have to worry about anything :bigsmile: .
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#14 Oler1s  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 19 April 2010 - 07:48 PM

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Pretty much taking my code, then building something from scratch and using my own code, to create a set of programs that function "similarly" to the original code, without having to reference anything I did not chose to.
Oh, that sounds better.

It's hard to really comment with certainty. There are fine grey lines here that are possible to cross. And it's not exactly a clear issue. IANAL, but even for law people this is pretty easy to debate and hard to answer. Just letting you know to be careful...
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#15 johnmatthais  Icon User is offline

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Re: What is considered stealing open source code?

Posted 19 April 2010 - 08:47 PM

Being careful, and completely discouraging him are two different things, and your posts had the visible intention to do the latter.

There's no gray line if patents aren't involved. It's a GPL license. As quoted in my post, the summed up Preamble allows you to derive from the code, open or closed source, in an effort to keep such software free. All it asks as that you continue to keep the software free. Hell, in some cases, it doesn't even ask that much, as long as it's not a direct copy-paste job. Source code isn't what people are usually after when it comes to suing. It's the art assets and IP aspects people are trying to take down all the time.

Really, think about it from a logical standpoint, why the hell would anyone open source a work, without asking for profit, if they didn't expect it to be derived or of use to someone stuck in a jam and maybe needing help deriving a specific function by looking at their code?
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