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I'm programming a plugin for a software under GPL v2. I'm using an unique name for my plugin, but I'm considering to rename it. I would like to take another plugin's name which has been abandoned and isn't currently being developed.

Am I allowed to take up that name without asking for permission from the author beforehand?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is not so much a copyright/licensing issue as a trademark issue. The name of a program/library/plugin is not substantive enough to claim copyright on, but it can be protected under the trademark laws.

As long as the author of the abandoned plugin has not registered a trademark on the plugin's name, you can publish a plugin yourself that uses the same name.

Whether you should do that is an entirely different question and is of a more ethical nature. I would not do it unless your plugin can be seen as a replacement/improvement of the original one, or the original one is not only abandoned but also disused and there is no better name for your plugin.

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The name of the project is not covered by the GPL, the license applies only to the project's code.

Now, without knowing the actual project, it's impossible to tell if you are allowed to use its name or not. For all we know, the name may be trademarked. Nevertheless, if you are set on using the name, the proper thing to do would be to at least try and contact the project's authors before you rename your project. It's just common courtesy.

All that said, my advice would be use a distinct name, especially if the abandoned project is popular(ish). Using the same name will only serve to confuse both projects' users.

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