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I was wondering about the risks involved with hosting on Microsoft CodePlex and Google Code. Let's say I host a project on one of them and it ends up taking off and getting tons of downloads.

I was wondering if it is possible (or maybe has already happened) for either Microsoft or Google to rebrand the project and turn it into closed-source?

The reason I ask is because Microsoft and Google are multi-billion dollar companies and your average lawyer would have to be crazy to try and fight them.

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You may try SourceForge or GitHub or BitBucket. They are better Open Source choices and their principles align more closely to Open Source. Also, I don't think MS or Google would rebrand your product. Its economically a bit infeasible. If you are too doubtful, release your project with a GPL license and have a local repository of your source code. –  Ubermensch Jun 15 '12 at 5:54
You mat want to try: Freecode.com –  umlcat Jun 15 '12 at 13:45
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

First things first: I'm not a lawyer.

Depending on the licence you use, these companies may be free to branch your product into either a closed-source project or another open-source competitor (perhaps so they can steer the development). It's always a risk (and a benefit) of using free/open-source licences.

However, if you have reason to suspect that your project is being used outside its licence agreement (by any company, not just Google or Microsoft), you'd do best in not contacting your average lawyer. There are organizations that are passionate about helping you battle in court, such as the Free Software Foundation (Europe, US, and many places). A recent example is the FSF taking Cisco to court, accused of violating the GPL licence.

In summary, to adress your question: yes it is possible. And yes, it has happened before.

Microsoft has previously been accused of "stealing" code from projects on CodePlex and use in their products. I recall that they took parts from the ImageMaster project, used for burning DVDs and used in their own DVD tool [source].

Law is tricky, but I hope I could provide an insight. Cheers!

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+1 for "Depending on the license you use". Pick a license that communicates your wishes accordingly. For example, I believe GPL is good for applications when you want to protect the app from being forked and becoming a commercial product, but not so much for libraries (I think open source libraries have a place in commercial software). Others have their own opinions. –  Michael Dean Jun 15 '12 at 12:46
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Whether your project is on Google Code or CodePlex in particular is not the important thing. If the project is open source, and the source is somewhere public-- and ALL of CodePlex, Google Code, Github, Sourceforge, etc. have these qualities-- then people, any people who want to, can come by, download the code, and use it in their own projects.

Microsoft used to do this kind of thing pretty regularly, witness the TCP/IP stack they used in 90s-era versions of Windows that was snatched out of BSD complete with identifying bugs, or the Stac Electronics case. I can't imagine they've stopped, unless the weirdness of their computing environment prevents it.

I haven't heard about Google doing it, but I would be entirely un-shocked. They've got a few thousand coders who are encouraged to go out and do whatever random thing they think up one day a week-- some of those guys are going to be thinking "my project would work, if only I could flamboozle the grammistans... is there a library for that?"

tl;dr If you put your code in places where people can see it, people from Big Companies can see it too.

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+1 for last line. :) –  Jennifer S Jun 15 '12 at 14:39
+1 for the last line, as @JenniferS says. But don't fault Microsoft for using the BSD Unix TCP/IP stack in Windows - that code was deliberately designed, licensed, and published to be re-used, and Windows was only one of many platforms that copied it. tl;dr: Using Open Source code in compliance with its license is a feature, not a bug. –  Ross Patterson Jun 20 '12 at 13:54
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