Space Cat, Prince Among Thieves

Releasing my tools under the MIT License was probably a mistake

For basically as long as I can remember, I have been a staunch defender of permissive licenses over the more copyleft variety. I want you to use things I've written. On top of that I don't believe it's my place to force you to then open source things you have written that expand upon my source code. Hence my extensive use of the MIT License.

The MIT License is very simple. It basically says you can do whatever you want with the code, but you have to include the license and copyright when redistributing the code itself. It does not however require you to open source any modifications you make to the code, nor provide attribution to the non-code products of the work.

With my libraries, this has served me very well. It's great, people use and contribute fixes back, and often donate back to me. I love it. I want you to use my code in your proprietary software. I open sourced it so you could do that. I specifically build open source libraries because I solved a problem I thought other people might face and wanted to save them time. Lifting the sea for all boats and all that. I have zero problem continuing to use the MIT License on my libraries.

I also open sourced the tools I host on my website, including but not limited to Pixel Circle / Oval Generator and Batch RewriteRule Generator. The MIT License seemed like the natural choice because I've been using it for everything I've released since the early 2000's.

I'd considered these as just part of my website far more so than something I thought people would reuse. My intentions open sourcing these tools, unlike my libraries, was to promote the community helping me to improve them - and they certainly have done so. I have gotten so much great feedback and contributions to these tools, and I am very happy with that. Massive shout out to Tyson453 for his insanely awesome work improving the speed of the Pixel Circle / Oval Generator.

Against my well meaning intentions however, websites re-hosting my tools have been popping up like weeds. In some cases, they are even beating me in search results for my own tools. With noted exception, they don't credit me as the author or provide any sort of link back. Many of them have made minor or major modifications to the tools, and next to none provide the source to those modifications. A number of them even have the gall to post links advertising them in the comments of my own tools.

Most irksome of all, in a fair number of cases they sit centrally on pages covered in ads and SEO keywords. My tools are being associated with a genuinely bad user experience.

This is all perfectly legal and allowed under the MIT License. That's on me. It just is not in the spirit of what I intended. I didn't have the foresight to see this coming. I didn't think people so lacked in the spirit of open source. I wanted to promote community contributions, not to have them monetized by other people who don't even provide the source to their modifications. I wanted to grow the tools as a community, not have closed source forks of them overtake my own open source versions.

There's not a lot I can do. I could try to contact the owners of these sites and ask them to provide attribution, but there's no obligation for them to do so. I could try to contact the owners of these sites and ask them to provide the source to their modifications, but again there is no obligation for them to do so. I really wish to see the changes shared alike, and the vain part of me would like attribution as the original author. At the end of the day though I chose the MIT License and it is what it is. It simply does not require any of that.

On top of everything else, until very recently and for completely unclear reasons, my website Donat Studios was completely blocked from Bing search results. This in turn meant I didn't show up in DuckDuckGo or Yahoo results either. This meant that for a time the only results when searching these sites for my tools were these re-hosted versions.

I actually managed to reach a human at Bing and get this resolved, but it took a lot of work and I'm still not sure why it happened in the first place.

I am considering relicensing my tools under some sort of Attribution-ShareAlike license similar to the BY-SA the content on this site is licensed under. It would not apply to current and past versions of the tools as that code is licensed MIT and you can't un-ring that bell. It would however apply to future versions. This would still promote community contributions, but would also require that any modifications be shared alike meaning that the modified source would have to be provided and I would have to be credited as the original author.

At the very least I will definitely think twice about the license I choose for future tools. I don't want to be a jerk about it, but I also don't want to see them monetized by others without even a link back to my website.

Comment by: C Wallace on

C Wallace's Gravatar I've been using your tool pretty much since you released it for so many things in minecraft, big circles, road curves, etc, and I'm sad to hear that your work's been treated this poorly. I wish you the best and hope you have better luck in the future

Comment by: Dave on

Dave's Gravatar If you didn’t use the MIT-0 license, there is an obligation for them to include attribution.

Comment by: Jeremy Kun on

Jeremy Kun's Gravatar If you did have a different license and this happened anyway, would you actually sue? If not, then the license doesn't really matter.

Comment by: Jesse G. Donat on

Jesse G. Donat's Gravatar I wouldn't need to sue, plain and simple.

Firstly, had there been a requirement of a link back, well meaning people would have done so. There's a solid group of people who actually took my tools and expanded on them, built cool stuff. It's wonderful to see and I have nothing but love for these people, they rock. These people I would just try to contact and ask for a link back.

The fact is though, I didn't ask for a link back. Some of these well meaning people didn't think to give me one and that's fine. I'm sure if I had asked for one all of them would have!

On the other hand, when it comes to the people who grabbed my tools, didn't improve them at all, and threw them up on sites loaded with ads and SEO keywords - I would handle differently.

It's pretty easy to figure out someone's hosting service and put in a DMCA request. I've had to do it in the past for some stolen data that was posted online, and it's fast and effective. I'd of course try to contact them first as well, but when that failed I'd have quick recourse.

All that said, because I chose MIT, they're all fine as they are even if I don't like it.

Comment by: Dan Wolff on

Dan Wolff's Gravatar My suggestion would be to use MPL 2.0 for code going forward. It's a file-based copyleft license, so you can always embed the code in proprietary software, but if you make any changes to the files, those changes have to be distributed.

Comment by: Julius on

Julius's Gravatar You might be able to “un-ring” the bell using copyright termination. It’s available for a 5 year window 35 years after the copyright was originally licensed (so during year 36 to year 40).

Comment by: Drew on

Drew's Gravatar For online tools attribution clauses don't matter because they don't distribute the software.

Sounds like you should've used AGPL, which, by the way, does not forbid monetization.

Comment by: Tom on

Tom's Gravatar People who do that wouldn't care about licenses.
I also use BY-SA for my blog, still I find page aggregators that steal my content, add ads and don't even bother to link back.

Comment by: Michal Piotrowski on

Michal Piotrowski's Gravatar In my previous project we had a nice section in both website and mobile app that listed a libraries that we used together with copyrights and licenses. I need to ask to do the same in my current project.

Comment by: Felix on

Felix's Gravatar As you write web related stuff, there's no better known license than the AGPL. With every other open source license you will end up having de facto proprietary software. For content, CC BY-SA.

Comment by: Shibu on

Shibu's Gravatar MIT , APACHE and the likes are made for corporates ....
got for GPL and AGPL

Email address will never be publicly visible.

Basic HTML allowed.