Scott Hanselman

The Spirit of Open Source - Netiquette can be subtle

July 01, 2008 Comment on this post [41] Posted in Musings
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I got a disturbing email today on Flo's mailing list (of Notepad2 fame). Florian Balmer is the author of the most excellent Notepad2. This is a great "it just works" editor. It's Notepad, but goes one better, I like to say. I've promoted it on my Tools List and in countless talks. Notepad2 has been developed over ten years and is in active, ongoing development. Florian has posted most recently about his adventures in Unicode.

Flo was surfing and discovered

This is uncool for a number of concrete reasons.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I screwed up the licensing so my only complaints to the author of Notepad3 is that the name makes for a tacky fork and that the changes appear to be not significant in their scope. I apologize.

Notepad3 is a fork of a older version of Notepad2, specifically the GPL'ed Notepad2 1.0.12 rather than the BSD Licensed Notepad2 2.1.19. The GPL'ed Notepad2 was released on June 25th, 2004. The BSD licensed version was released on April 7th, 2007.

See, it turns out Netiquette CAN be subtle!

  • The distributor of Notepad3 did not include Florian's license. 
    • UPDATE/CORRECTION: The license still is intact in the .c source code files, just not in the main license.txt. The full copy of the original Notepad2 license.txt also appears in Notepad3's source zip in c165/license.txt.
    • Notepad2 is distributed with this license (I snipped the copyright all caps at the end for brevity) as its main license.txt.
  • Florian's name doesn't appear anywhere within the Notepad3 root license.txt, which appears to be an aggregate of a number of licenses of the sub-components.
    • UPDATE/CORRECTION: Flo's website is referenced in the license.txt's header.
  • The Notepad3 "creator" didn't make any attempts to include his changes in Notepad2 or give Florian a heads-up.

Now, these next reasons are my own opinions, and possibly subtle. You tell me. These are my opinions.

  • Mildly Tacky: They made up a new name and registered a new domain for the project. The new source can be only by found by digging around the main site. Can you find it?
    UPDATE/CORRECTION: I think the source should be linked directly to from the main page. Rather, it's under download/src using the navigation on the left of their site.
  • Tacky: The new entity, Notepad3, arguably doesn't contain substantive improvements, certainly not enough to be called an entirely new version, and definitely not Notepad3. You can see the sum total of the changed lines on Flo's post.
  • Rather Tacky: They took the time to put the new entity has been put up on Softpedia and promote it without a single reference to Florian or Notepad2.

It's not that Florian doesn't appreciate improvements. He has put a number of modified versions his side, including a very minor update by Wesner Moise and I. If he wanted to incorporate these changes into the mainline he could easily. I included a source diff for him, but most importantly I didn't make it look like his work was mine!

Modified Versions of Notepad2

When people do Open Source work, one of the things that is almost universal is the natural human need for appreciation. For attribution. One overarching intent of the whole Creative Commons with Attribution license and most Open Source Licenses is "just don't remove the part that says *I did this!*"

Flo says it well, albeit with some understandable passion:

Nonetheless, the author has chosen the name "Notepad3". Compared with the original Notepad, Notepad2 represents an evolution with new features. "Notepad3" implies the same, but with even less features, without any new development. Seems that the play on words is used to fool users into believing that "Notepad3" is something more advanced. The popularity of Notepad2 is being taken advantage of to attract some attention ― I have no idea what else might be the motivation of the author.

The author justifies the publication of "Notepad3" with the added installation and documentation (which is actually my documentation, and has always been there). Innovation equals zero. This causes confusion about the different versions available, and the reputation of my software is harmed when associated with that kind of sloppy, offending descendants (and, it makes me think how indiscriminate some well-known software sites are concerning additions to their repositories).

I have no problem with new versions of my software being released, even with minor changes ― my licensing conditions are fully met. The problem here is that the author made minor changes to the code and branded it in a very disingenuous and deceiving manner.

Perhaps this is just a faux pas, a minor misunderstanding. However, I would encourage Readers who are interested in getting into Open Source to think about these issues when getting involved in projects.

My Own Experiences in Open Source

I've had a lot of great experiences and one speed bump.


When I wrote WatirMaker and released the source, I had written it from scratch. Each time it got forked or written again or modified, the folks who did it let me know! They asked for help! I offered help! It was a lovefest - the kind of lovefest that I think Open Source should be.

The email conversations usually went like this:

Dude, heads up, I want to do _____

Sweet! Rock on, let me know if you want help with ____ or if/when/how we can put _____ back into the source. Wanna join the project!

Sweet! Dude! Rock on!

Yay! <Hugs.>

And the results were cool.

Notice how everyone is genial, chatting, and attributing? Even in Richard's WatinRecorder post, by now likely a complete re-write of my stuff, was thoughtful enough to thank a bunch of folks.


DasBlog, now the work of dozens, originally came from Clemens Vasters, who originally got it from Chris Anderson's BlogX had a similar issue happen when a gentleman forked our Source Code and created an entirely different project out of it with an all new name. This happened two years ago and he's since changed/refactored the project pretty substantially, but it still felt crappy at the time and the team was rightfully torqued. At the time, all that had been done was a recompile under VS2005 and a check-in as a new project with a new name.

Justice Gray blogged about it soon after:

Saying that "in the long term, ThinkJot will move away from the original dasBlog source code",  implies that all you've done is make some minor project ports, throw in a new DatePicker and call this your own project.  For sure, it's probably legally fine given the terms of the open-source license, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  How would you feel if you worked on something for a long time and then someone just took all the work you did, rebranding it and called it their own?  I mean, c'mon!

Fortunately the author posted about this later and admitted this most important point:

"My biggest mistake has been that I never talked to the dasBlog team previously about this. I admit it, and apologize."

And I give him full credit for that simple admission. Folks that copy/fork are rarely evil or malicious. We're all just trying to move the ball forward, and perhaps that's the same in the case of Notepad3. However, that doesn't change the fact that talking to folks up front can make all the difference.

Unfortunately, at this point, this issue has soured Florian considerably:

I have been working on Notepad2 over more than 10 years, altogether. The above hacks may have been done in a few minutes.

There have been similar cases in the past, already, but this one really beats everything. I'm not sure if I'm going to release any more open source versions of Notepad2, in the future. Ain't fun like that.

Let's encourage Florian to keep up the great work and as we go about our lives as members of the Open Source community, let's remember to appreciate all the hard work that folks put into their various projects and that just because Copy/Paste is easy doesn't make it right.

My Tips? When in Doubt...

If you're doing Open Source and you're unclear about Netiquette, then:

  • Just ask.
    • Ask someone working on a project how they do it.
  • Err on the side of attribution.
    • You can't attribute or thank too many people, especially if you've copy/pasted something.
  • Reach Out.
    • Email the authors. Talk to people, join mailing lists and for goodness sake, avoid working in a vacuum.
    • I still get emails about GlucoPilot, a shareware app I wrote almost 8 years ago. If I had the rights to the source, I'd give to the world. (Still working on that, actually)
  • Appreciate your peers and everyone that contributes to the community.

What do you think?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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July 01, 2008 4:11
I agree it's tacky, but the real issue is not complying with the license. If this person is violating the terms of the license, then Flo can seek recourse for that. He can notify the distributors, ISP of that fact. Best case, have it shut down.
July 01, 2008 4:24
I think its appalling. I looked up the whois record for that site and here it is.

Admin ID:nca-163420-61ba2
Admin Name:khaled al ahmad
Admin Organization:none
Admin Street1:aa
Admin Street2:aa
Admin Street3:
Admin City:Dam
Admin State/Province:none
Admin Postal Code:12345
Admin Country:AE
Admin Phone:+1.123423123
Admin Phone Ext.:
Admin FAX:
Admin FAX Ext.:
Admin Email:

That record is just bogus crap. Someone should report that person. Also from what I know org domains can also be contested so can be captured back.

Flo, Scott. If there is any way I can help, let me know.
July 01, 2008 4:24
Did you see this in the "Notepad3" features list:
"(About) box: GPL 2.0 notification"

The license that comes with the Notepad distribution is definitely not GPL, but the summary text in Google indicates that Notepad2 is released under the GPL.

Was Notepad2 previously GPL'd? If so, was this a fork of the GPL'd version or the BSD'd version?

July 01, 2008 4:31
Sushant - His or her site says "Anas R." as the copyright person, but let's not jump to conclusions and let's give this individual to a fair opportunity to step up.

Khorn - That's weird. I don't believe that Notepad2 was GPL, but it might have to be if a library it uses was GPL'ed. I'm 99% sure that Notepad2 has always been BSD. And Neil Hodgson has always been very kind about Scintilla and SciTE with his license. Very odd.
July 01, 2008 4:47
If there is a license violation, that's one thing. Shut it/them down.

OTOH, if one releases software under a license that allows someone else to take the code, add a DatePicker, and rename it "Notepad 7.0 Turbo with Extra Whiz-Bang Sauce!!!!" that is the price of using that license.

Ultimately, the community will shun the new work, so I think it's a moot point.

Even if we all like Extra Whiz-Bang Sauce.
July 01, 2008 4:57
Deeply a bummer that Paint.NET thing. I love the name Backspaceware, though.
July 01, 2008 6:29
Flo just needs to incorporate these changes, restore the license text, and release Notepad4. Then everything will be back to normal. Unless this guy releases Notepad5, but who would ever trust a program called Notepad5?
July 01, 2008 8:58
A fork's very nature means that it'll be barely distinguishable from its parent project at the beginning. The pidgin fork was over a squabble about resizing the input box, after all. It has to start somewhere and I'm fine with the first checkin of a fork being an exact copy of the original project.
July 01, 2008 9:31
True, to a point. It'd be nice to checkin something that was a LITTLE farther along. With the DasBlog fork at least he changed the name. If it had called it DasBlog3, that would have been a slap in the face.
July 01, 2008 9:40

I think you're missing the point it's not about using the code and if he feels a datepicket makes the product better, go on, add it and release, the issue is simple, give credit where credit is due.
July 01, 2008 10:14
The naming is distasteful but valid. Has anyone tried contacting the author of Notepad3 to discuss changing it?

Other than that, your research is poor and inflammatory, Scott. Notepad2 1.0.12 is GPL, check the Notepad2.txt distributed with the current source:

- Notepad2 source code now released under the GNU GPL

It is indeed true that the *current* version of Notepad2 is licensed differently, but Notepad3 is a fork of 1.0.12.

Looking at the source for Notepad3, the source files still contain the GPL notice and author copyright from Notepad2. The about box in Notepad3 goes out of its way to reference Notepad2.

I think you owe the author of Notepad3 an apology.
July 01, 2008 10:30
Passer By (no name? why not?) - Good to know. I will update the post to reflect that, but I don't think my discussion or research qualifies as "poor and inflammatory" as perhaps a smidge hasty.

The author's contact form error'ed out when I tried to contact him, but I only tried once. I don't think that it's my responsibility to hunt this guy down when this is clearly a tacky move on his part. If Flo wants to talk to him, I'm sure they'll find each other.

His tacky move outweighs my missing the license switch deep in that text file by at least an order of magnitude.
July 01, 2008 11:43
Hmm, wonder where 'Passer By's IP originates from - United Arab Emirates, perchance..? <:)

Oh man, I googled him and turned up someone with the same name on LinkedIn who works for <DA, DA, DAAAAAA...>
July 01, 2008 11:46
Dude, heads up, I want to do _____

Answer: no, we will not ever accept such a patch due to our religion.

Did you ever get that? Very frustrating.
July 01, 2008 12:06
Your post is still wrong. contains the same license.txt file from Notepad2, completely intact. It also includes (in c165/license.txt) a plain copy of the GPL v2.

It's not your personal responsibility to contact him, but it is certainly unfair to make a large number of incorrect accusations in a very popular weblog without trying to resolve this amicably beforehand.

Don't paint your poor research as a minor error, it simply isn't. It only took me a couple of minutes to investigate this and find out that most of your post was incorrect. There is very little digging required to find the true story here. How about you do that?
July 01, 2008 12:08
P.S. No name because I don't see the need for using a real name, it's not necessary to use a real name to make correct and valid points.

Additionally, I have absolutely no relation to the authors of Notepad2 or Notepad3. I found this weblog post via reddit, thought it sounded strange, and investigated further. It is a shame more people do not check facts rather than assuming weblog rants are accurate.
July 01, 2008 12:16
I was referring to the main license.txt in the main zip. It's conventional that the "rollup" license appear in the main license.txt.

I appreciate your attention to detail and your corrections, and I'll update the post again.

I didn't make "a large number of accusations." I made three, and I will update them with your help so they are clearer.

I'm not sure it's fair to say "most of your post was incorrect," though, as 2/3 of it was anecdotes about my own experiences, and fairly decent advice about what folks can do to support and appreciate Open Source.

That said, thanks for your comment!
July 01, 2008 12:36
Your weblog post contains a copy of the current Notepad2 license.
While this may be interesting, it's irrelevant for the discussion.
Notepad3 is a fork of Notepad2 1.0.12, which was released under GPL >=

Notepad3 contains a complete copy of the Notepad2 sources in the c165
directory, including the original license.txt, unchanged. This
unified diff demonstrates precisely what changes *have* been made:

Note that this is a unified diff of the Notepad2 1.0.12 sources
against only the c165 subdirectory of the In addition, contains a copy of the help in the chm directory, some
support stuff for building an installer, another license.txt file, and
other minor additions.

The additional license.txt in the top level directory explicitly and
clearly mentions Notepad2 and the 1.0.12 licensing terms, including
links to Flo's website. Additionally, it clearly discloses the
Scintilla licensing, and includes a copy of the GPL v2.

The author of Notepad3 is well within their rights to create a fork
rather than submitting changes upstream. I personally do not think
this is the correct approach, but it is one of the fundamental
freedoms afforded by open source licensing.

In addition to the changes made to the Notepad2 code, Notepad3
includes an updated version of Scintilla. In total, the changes so
far are relatively small, but not "a few minutes work", and the scope
of the changes is really irrelevant to the project.

So, in fact, the only problem here is that the name is distastefully
similar to Notepad2's. The correct course of action would be for the
authors of both projects to communicate directly and try to resolve
this so that both parties are happy.

Both your and Flo's overreaction to this is shameful, and I would like
to see you both post corrected details and perhaps even an apology to
the author of Notepad3.
July 01, 2008 12:36
You're surprised they don't mention FB's name when his license says
"3. Neither the name of Florian Balmer nor the names of its contributors
may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software
without specific prior written permission."
Any mention of his name could be construed as saying that he endorses notepad3. Given how he's got his tits in a knot about it he clearly doesn't.

> The new source can be only by found by digging around the main site. Can you find it?

I clicked "Download" and there was a link "src". I wonder what that leads to.
July 01, 2008 12:44
Sigh. I don't want to get into an argument on my own blog. I'll make some updates to make it clearer, but I am really surprised at the bile directed towards me and not the guy who copy/pasted Notepad2 and re-released it with minimal changes.
July 01, 2008 12:50
There's no bile directed at you. You're making updates, and that's good, but you're making them piecemeal, and I think the article still reflects negatively against the author of Notepad3 unfairly.

Why should bile be directed at the author of Notepad3? As I have indicated, they have acted within their rights, and done the right thing with respect to attribution and licensing. It is you who is/was in the wrong, here.

Remember that they are fully within their rights to create forks. It's fundamental to open source. The fact that you make that "copy/paste" remark indicates that you still just Don't Get It. Please try.
July 01, 2008 12:56
Okay, it's starting to look better, thank you, but:

"Florian's name doesn't appear anywhere within the Notepad3 root license.txt, which appears to be an aggregate of a number of licenses of the sub-components."

Is unfair, it provides a direct link to Florian's website, and clearly names Notepad2.

"I included a source diff for him, but most importantly I didn't make it look like his work was mine!"

Notepad3 certainly does not attempt to make it look like the work is all by Notepad3's author. In fact, as already mentioned, all of the source files still contain Florian's name and the Notepad3 author has not added his own. This is good practice, it's usually best not to add your name to the list of contributors until you have made large changes to a file... but the best practice for this differs from project to project.

"Perhaps this is just a faux pas, a minor misunderstanding."

Yup, you're right. The original tone of your post, and of Florian's post (which is quite childish--threatening to give up over what is in actuality quite minor and resolvable). Ironically, the title of your post talks about netiquette being subtle, and yet your original post and Florian's post are anything but subtle! Softly softly, catchee monkey, and all that.
July 01, 2008 12:59
Post updated again. There are a few things you and I do agree on, Passer By, if I may quote you:

First, we agree this is a sub-optimal approach:

The author of Notepad3 is well within their rights to create a fork rather than submitting changes upstream. I personally do not think this is the correct approach, but it is one of the fundamental freedoms afforded by open source licensing

We agree the name was a poor idea:

So, in fact, the only problem here is that the name is distastefully similar to Notepad2's. The correct course of action would be for the authors of both projects to communicate directly and try to resolve
this so that both parties are happy.

I disagree that updating the Scintilla lib was a significant amount of work. Maybe a few hours. Flo was perhaps hyperbolic in this regard. We agree it wasn't rocket science:

In total, the changes so far are relatively small, but not "a few minutes work", and the scope of the changes is really irrelevant to the project.

I assume you read the rest of the post. You're obvious in, or interested in, Open Source, so you've probably contributed to projects also. Licensing is messy. Code is messy. Attribution is messy.

I think that the author of Paint.NET has a good point that there is a big difference between a valid fork, which you and both agree is a part of life (and can be done in a classy way, or less so) and what he calls "backspaceware" where someone DOES just copy/paste and backspace over your name.

From what I can see Notepad3 is somewhere in the middle-left, leaning towards the site of a "tacky fork" as he doesn't appear malicious.

The point I was trying to make in my post, was that it's subtle. It's tricky. Just the fact that I screwed up my analysis kind of proves that point, I think.

I still think it's lame, and that at the least, Notepad3 should have a different name, and that he should have at least given Flo a heads up, that's all.
July 01, 2008 14:08
You think that Passer By's comments are causing an argument on your blog Scott, I'd hate to be around when Justice finds out that you've called him Justin.... ;o)
July 01, 2008 16:45
Scott, I just want to say what you are doing is wonderful. If what PasserBy said is correct regarding the license term (which I am not sure if it is or it's not and I don't really care to find out at the moment) then perhaps we need to rethink the open source license term and structure and better educating OpenSource author to better protect themselves from those who have no ethical standard.

I really think childish is somebody who can't even have a basic nickname. I mean, common now, pay some respect to the blog author will ya?

At any rate I support Flo and Scott reaction to this. I imagine anybody who contributed so much to a project would react the same way. Unless (I am calling no name here) they are the type who took somebody else project recompile, added some minor irrelevant changes then called their own.

Licensing requirement aside, I don't think any argument can be make to defense NotePad3 author tackiness and poor ethic standard which I believe is the gist of Scott post.
July 01, 2008 18:19

I personally do not think this is the correct approach, but it is one of the fundamental freedoms afforded by open source licensing.

Totally agree.

The same happens with Creative Commons sometimes. You post a picture complying with the CC reqs, but the author ask you to take down the photo, just because.
July 01, 2008 18:31
The interesting thing for me is the netiquette issues, not the picky legal ones. When you live in an open and public community, there are unwritten and sometimes subtle rules in addition to the overt rules that govern our behaviour. When you choose to ignore them or not inform yourself about them in the first place, you risk getting slapped in the face for your behavior. Why would anyone expect anything different? When we were kids most of us learned that when we acted rudely in public, we got called out for it. Pointing out and hopefully correcting the rude or otherwise unsatisfactory behaviour is an expected, ordinary, and useful thing to do. It also makes for interesting blog posts. :)

The really interesting thing is that the corrections are also occuring for you Scott, and I have to give you props for responding with respect and class - even if you don't completely agree with them.

Calling the behaviour 'tacky' is being gracious, I think. The guy ripped off a name without asking or involving Flo. He deserves to get slapped in the face.

With regard to Flo's reaction, I would hope that he continues the great work. Wish there were a way to pat him on the back if a concrete way - I looked on his sites and didn't see a way of donating/tipping him, so best I can do is send him an encouraging note.
July 01, 2008 18:38
I think that calling the fork "Notepad3" is a step beyond tacky. The name ""Notepad3" implies that the fork is the next iteration of "Notepad2". If you follow the link to, Anas Ramadan makes the following statement:
I've just uploaded an improved version of Notepad2....

It's not an improved version, it's a trivial fork of an old version of Notepad2. With any feedback from Anas Ramadan, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt about his motives. That being said, it still smells pretty fishy. If Anas wanted to improve Notepad2, why didn't he contact Florian first? And why submit it to Softpedia at this stage of it's deviation from Notepad3?

All forks start out from the same base code, that's pretty much the definition of a fork. However, when you make a fork of an open source project, the new fork usually doesn't appear in public until some substantial changes have been made to the code base and under a new name to differentiate itself from the parent project. When Sebastian Gottschall made a fork of Sveasoft's Alchemy firmware (which in turn was based on the Linksys GPL'ed firmware), he made substantial changes to the code and named his project "DD-WRT".
July 01, 2008 20:25
Regarding the licensing:

Even with the BSD Licensing on the current versions of Notepad2, the guy who forked to start the Notepad3 project would have been free to license his changes under the GPL. Due to the nature of the GPL, it would then be necessary to treat any codebase that had touched those changes as GPL. This is one of the unfortunate side effects of the GPL, though it is exactly what Stallman and the FSF were trying to do. I personally make it a policy that any code changes I make to a codebase are licensed under the same license as the original author chose for their code. It's easier that way, and sometimes I frankly have no choice.

So, even if Notepad3 were based on the current version of Notepad2, the GPL could have been applied to the changes, and thus tainted the entire codebase functionally forcing a fork. Unfortunately, many people who do Open Source development are incredibly ignorant of the intricacies of licensing issues (which is little surprise, given the legalese in most licensing), and have no sense of the repercussions of their decisions.
July 01, 2008 20:40
Disclaimer: I've never done open source work and only have a layman's understanding of the different licenses.

That said, I'm a regular reader of this blog and couldn't help jumping in.

Whatever the legal position (which appears to be OK from what I glean) I'd tend to agree that the name Notepad3 is rather unfortunate and somewhat misleading. It implies a significant 'improvement' over the last version, which would always be misleading. Software being what it is, a fork can probably never be 'proven' to be absolutely better or worse than the original - it can only be different, which is what the intent usually is ( I think ). Therefore the name is, as mentioned above, in bad taste at minimum and downright misleading at worst.

Having said this, I probably would never have discovered Notepad3 on my own though I've been using Notepad2 for years. The point being that there might have been a little bit of an over-reaction here which is actually making the project more visible than it had any hope of being - at least at this stage of the fork. Getting mentioned in this blog might've been the best thing that happened to it if ('IF' - I cannot possibly know the intent of course) instant publicity was the objective.

Anyway, Flo has a good product and I certainly hope he will continue to develop it.
July 01, 2008 21:22
The more I search around, the seedier it gets. - The "publisher" doesn't even to bother to change Mr. Balmer's program description.

P.S. Interestingly enough, it's no longer found in Softpedia.

July 02, 2008 2:45
"You think that Passer By's comments are causing an argument on your blog Scott, I'd hate to be around when Justice finds out that you've called him Justin.... ;o)"

That's okay, Scott is dead to me as of now.
July 02, 2008 2:57
Curt: Yes, and when it happened to the Paint.NET team, they were even bigger whiners than Hanselman. Rather than contacting the individual who may (or may not) have violated the license, they chose (or seriously considered choosing) to punish the user community by ripping out swaths of source (installer, etc).

In this case, I don't see any license violation. This is why we have licenses - you're supposed to protect yourself from whatever you consider to be hardship. If someone violates the license, go after them (not the community [=source deprivation or byte-wasting blog posts]) If they didn't violate the license and you still consider yourself abused, tough - you apparently chose the wrong license.
July 02, 2008 3:40
Whiner? Ouch. I did make a mistake navigating the license stuff. In retrospect I've have ignored the license stuff and just said the naming was tacky and focused my post on the positive.

Live and learn, though.
July 02, 2008 4:12
what about hanselinux. there are untold things that are a minor fork adapted to one persons desire and ego. I know for me if there is something I had passion for, and it didn't have huge traction, and my passion was fading, if somebody took it over and took it in a total different direction with a different name, i'd be happy at least to see that my original effort wasn't wasted, that the vision was caught and would carry on. I think appreciateion should be shown where due though. In this case its different, however notepad2 is big enough to deal with imitation, but really the guy who made it might have great dreams (and maybe in time the skill and motivation to really make it notepad3), but still i think you should be overzealous to make sure all credits are given
July 02, 2008 14:24
Great post!

Making tiny changes and calling the product NotePad3 is not ok. Period. It's not in the spirit of open source (contributing and improving) and it's bad style (definitely trying to take credit of another guys work by basically adding an incremental digit to a name).

There's nothing more encouraging than see other people take credit for loads of years work. I've experienced the same with umbraco - the open source ASP.NET CMS I founded - and it's impossible to describe how hard that hits you. I even experienced people taking the software, changing the name and logo and started selling it (without any visual references to the GPL, my work and my name). As someone also trying to make a living of open source, that was a thread to my business in two ways:

1) I'd call forks like these "hostile forks" or "inconstructive forks". A fork that didn't add to a project, but simply tried to take over an active project for the commercial benefits (or for getting the credibility/fame)

2) The disencouragement (anything called that? Bear with me, I’m Danish ;)) you feel as a developer. Like Flo I simply started to lose energy and interest in continuing. It’s irrational, because you focus on the few negative experiences, rather than the thousands of great ones – but they hit hard.

Based on those experiences, I decided to contact one of the leading open source experts in Europe – Martin von Haller Grønbæk. I simply told him that I want an open source license that’s as free as possible (I love the simplicity in the MIT/BSD style), but I want to make sure that I still got the credit (keeping naming and logos). The solution was surprisingly simple. We split umbraco into two parts – the framework (all the businesslogic) and the ui. The framework was released (and are still) under the MIT, while the UI is freeware with full source, but under a proprietary license. The whole thing ended up in a license that was written in a language that was easy to understand and was less than two pages. If anyone wishes to claim umbraco their own, they can buy a license to do so. If you wish to build on umbraco you can do so without any copy-left issues as the core is MIT.

As far as I know, there’s licenses in the making that combines these challenges – MIT/BSD style with visual branding/credit left intact and that would be awesome to get those styles approved by OSI. I really think that it covers both commercial worries and the credibility issues, without interfering with the original intentions of open source.

Flo, keep up the good work. Focus on all the positive experiences. By the end of the day you'll win and there's a special very unpleasant place for people who claim more than they deserve. You don't need to deal with that - we even got scottha to do the dirty work :-)

July 03, 2008 9:09
We coders are the worst. We expect to be paid for our work but we are the last one's that want to pay for software. Just pay for UltraEdit already you darn cheapskates!
July 03, 2008 18:28
Did you read any of the blog posts about Paint.NET? Yes, they contacted the offending party, and they got the offending application taken down. But they still wanted to make it harder to blatantly rip off their work without unduly hurting the community, which is exactly what they did by removing the installer (not "large swaths of source code", just the installer). Please get your facts straight before you start flaming.
July 03, 2008 18:54
Hi folks,
here speaks Joe User. Do you really say that some raghead jerk can take GreatApp1.5 make some minor changes, like lacing it with one of those newfangled 800 bytes of assembler malware loaders, and then release it onto an unsuspecting public as GreatApp3.0?
That NIC record makes all my alarm bells tingle. Scares me shitless.
July 04, 2008 12:07
Unfortunately, the crime often goes unpunished.

The site I co-founded (HarpoonHQ) used to be a fountain of creative development for a niche product, a wargame of naval & air operations. For years we produced realistic scenarios & databases for the game, as well as providing technical support. For a few years we literally single-handedly kept the game alive (it was out of sales circulation until it was picked up again by a mainstream publishes when they noticed its lasting popularity). We did all this voluntarily, in our free time. A "thanks guys!" from the community was enough.

Until a thief, who knows no better, decided to start copying our material and presenting it as his own.

We had previously made a deal with the dev/publishers that our IP rights on what we had created for the game were guaranteed and would be defended by them if the need arose. We presented the evidence of the theft to the game developers. They refused to go ahead with it because it actually meant getting the guy in court, and he happens to be in Canada. In other words, the deal was good unless they actually had to get their hands dirty to live up to their part of it.

We then turned to the community, in hopes that they would recognize the theft and ostracize the perpetrator. Guess what? The community didn't care. All they wanted was more scenarios & databases for the game, and that guy offered them - scenarios ripped off from ours and a database whose resemblance to our material was eye-popping to everyone who bothered to look it up.

But almost nobody bothered. The guy spent maybe 20 hrs/day (no kidding) making himself everyone's "buddy", so he couldn't have done anything so twisted right? Instead of having the guy kicked out of the community, we were the ones being mocked at, ridiculed and asked because our "bickering" was "hurting the community".

Never mind that we presented chart after chart depicting the theft. Never mind that, just in cased anyone didn't realise the long-term consequences of what was going on, I spelled them out to everyone who would listen. Again, we were ridiculed and cast aside.

Inevitably, what I warned everyone about happened. The guys who made all the cool stuff that kept the game alive stopped making the cool stuff, fully aware that the better their creation was, the better the chances were that it would be ripped off. The community dried out. Nowadays the only "fresh" material is what the thief and his buddies (who by now have gotten at least competent enough to make some original stuff, albeit of dubious quality) are churning out. The game, for all practical purposes, is dead.

We moved on and are working on something new, taking some hard-earned lessons to heart.

If there ever was an example of how a few bad apples (with the "see no evil, don't care to take a stand" tolerance of the rest of the bunch) can spoil an entire barrel, this is it.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.