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I have been recently hacking on a project I started a couple of months ago. It was a simple idea. Allowing people to collect achievements for code they shared on Github.

So I started this noble endeavor, trying to rake in my friends to get coding and helping. I spent all my free time working getting this up and running and building it.

Enter musical time lapse

My friends pitched in when they could. As you can imagine, I became very attached to its success.

Then just as I was gearing up for release, a company releases a very similar product. I was very disheartened when I came to hear my little project was release by someone else, but it wasn't like I had rights to the idea. I swallowed my pride and shot them an email saying something along the lines of

Hey, I have been working on something similar. We should talk! It's super cool stuff.

We talk, I get the feeling that he really doesn't want to collaborate, although cordial we allow each other access to one another site.

Couple of days pass, and I see that some of the descriptions for my achievement are appearing on their achievement site. After speaking to him originally, I was going to send them a nicely worded email outlining my plan for my achievement system and call it quits. Once I saw the descriptions of my achievements appearing on their site, I couldn't just let it go. I decided to fight back.

I have open-sourced the project, just leveling the playing field and it frees me up from having to deal with the competition, since I am was only working on it part-time.

This isn't the action I can take every time, I am wondering what options do I have if I find myself in this position in the future? lawsuit? stern email?

Just as a heads up, I am looking for advice on how to deal with this without lawyers; or is this the way things play out in the real world?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, MichaelT, Kilian Foth, Bart van Ingen Schenau, Martijn Pieters Feb 18 at 0:14

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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I'm somewhat confused; is it the concept you assert that they "stole" or did they somehow get access to your code? (And if so, do you know how?) –  Aaronaught May 26 '11 at 19:39
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@Philip: It closes down some of the options for making money from your hard work, as well as having someone else take off with the vision you created. It's wonderful that @dustyprogrammer has chosen to open-source in this instance, but to be forced into it has got to suck. –  Lunivore May 26 '11 at 21:00
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@Aaronaught because the achievements descriptions were verbatim copied from my system. numerous hits to the achievements page without sign up. This was all before I released it. So limited number of people knew about it. –  dustyprogrammer May 26 '11 at 21:21
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You still haven't explained what you consider them to have stolen. The idea? The design? The code? Just the content (descriptions)? The first, you can't do a damn thing about, and the latter three are all totally different types of intellectual property. –  Aaronaught May 26 '11 at 21:53
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He has made it very clear from the beginning if you read for comprehension the text copy for his achievements were taken verbatim apparently. So that is possible copyright infringement. Not a whole hell of a lot he can do about it without suing someone and it doesn't sound like he wants to take the Red Pill route. –  Jarrod Roberson May 26 '11 at 22:09

7 Answers 7

up vote 20 down vote accepted

You made some competitive mistakes:

  1. You announced yourself to your competition. He may not have known about you or your project before that, and by announcing yourself to him he was now aware he had competition and could prepare for it.
  2. You decided to share ideas with him. In this way he gets to see everything that he is doing better and everything that you are doing better. You gave him advantage.
  3. You should have competed with him on your own merit. Instead of collaborating you should have learned what you could from his site and use HIS work to formulate new fresh ideas for yours. Then you can update your site where it is lacking compared to his.

There is nothing wrong with being the second person to have a great idea. Multiple competing factions means more choices for the users and a healthy competition keeps the projects from going stale.

I think since you placed trust where it wasn't due you wouldn't have a case if you had a great lawyer.

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I hate it when it happens, but I agree with you. The OP should think about whether to fight the good fight rather than turn to legal tactics. Being second to market is not always a bad thing. –  Kevin Hsu May 26 '11 at 20:04
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@Kevin, thats why I open sourced it. I think your missing my point. I dont want to resort to lawyers, but hiding your work can't possibly the only way to protect it. So when someone releases a book, if I get enough people to believe its my words its mine? –  dustyprogrammer May 26 '11 at 20:11
    
@dustyprogrammer, thanks for clarifying to me. I guess what I'm asking is, whether or not you open source it, are you going to continue driving forward, knowing they might ape your ideas? –  Kevin Hsu May 26 '11 at 20:20
    
@Kevin of course but I dont have a development team working on it full time its whatever I put forward in my free time it i will be difficult to compete. –  dustyprogrammer May 26 '11 at 21:22
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@maple_shaft: Fair enough. You got a +1 from me either way. –  Steve Evers May 27 '11 at 1:16

It's what happens in the real world. I had a customer who bought my software. He then asked me a few questions about how this and that worked. I answered him. One day I decided to make a dupicate of my software with a different name. I wanted to see if I could knock myself off using a different price and different name.

I went to upload my new knock of product and was denied because that program already existed. Wow, how could that be? My customer created his own copy-cat version of my software and used the same friggin name I used for my knock of copy. Since he uploaded before I did, he sealed off the name.

It got worse, his descriptions and screen shots wound up getting link to my software. It became very confusion. I registerd a website using the software name and eventually his product died off.

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Its an open source project - so how does it matter if it comes from his repository or yours? Join him, get the work done. If you have a split later, fork away. Many OSS projects have a team of alpha people leading it with no issues.

Or the expensive option, Lawyer up!

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+1 For an insightful comment! You have already lost in my opinion so join him. Open source projects always need talented qualified people and since you know the problem the solution is aiming to solve better than nearly anyone you are perfect for the job. –  maple_shaft May 27 '11 at 1:01

One option is: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." They're obviously working on something you are passionate about and you have about as much experience with it as their company/team does (assuming this company has this product as their flagship). You could probably bring a lot to them, and maybe negotiate a really good position.

Apply for a job.

From their vantage point, they get a quality, passionate developer and they get to knock off a competitor, all in one go.

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If you have proof of your accusations, publish it widely so that those of us with ethics will not use the other persons products. Some may call it dirty tactics, but I feel as a user of software that I have a right to know if is written ethically. e.g. I do not buy Zinwell products after the accusations on their GPL violation (and I don't even know for certain if those accusations are true). The reason you need proof is to protect yourself from being sued.

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+1 on making the fight public with solid proof –  pthesis May 27 '11 at 1:34
    
IMO, Do try and channel that energy to a productive thing. If you go public, either nobody cares, or everybody cares. Both are detrimental and doesn't get you anything. –  Subu Subramanian May 27 '11 at 2:57

How this plays out depends on your version of "the real world".

In large companies with proprietary products and solutions, there's a squadron of lawyers just for this. They scrutinize the input and the output of technical teams that make these products and solutions - for example, I've dealt with lawyers when downloading open source code, just to make sure that license under which I downloaded the code will allow me to do the work I need to do with the code w/out getting the company in trouble. Same thing for everything my company publishes - even a technical brief goes through management and lawyers before hitting eyes that haven't signed NDAs.

In open source focused companies the world seems to be changing. With open source products, the money is not in the code base, but in the brilliance of the people supporting it - they'll make their money training, consulting and publishing on the topic of their open source. In that case, the protection is less on the product and more on the message of the people. Still and all, there's plenty of lawyer work to go around.

In the realm of really small, hoping-to-become-a-product companies, the protection is secrecy. As @maple_shaft said - you don't share information about the product until you're ready to reap the rewards of making it public. Companies that haven't gone public with their product are often intensely private. Not having public info out there is about the best way to stay protected.

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It occurs to me this would be more appropriate for the section of stackexchange where you'll find lawyers, as I doubt there are a whole lot of hybrid programmer-lawyers (or lawyer-programmers) around. I know one, and he's terrible at the programming bit.

Unless you had a patent, filed copyright, or other paperwork proving they actually took your ideas, you have zero chance of winning a lawsuit.

Even with such documentation, you still probably don't have a shot, because you sat down with them and shared your ideas. You made no binding agreement prior to the conversation to control use of the information in that conversation, so it was a free-for-all.

Once you tell somebody else an idea, you can't truly control it anymore. Especially if they're a potential competitor.

Just's just my 2 cents, because I'm not a lawyer.

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I am really against going the lawsuit route. It was just a side project, but he clearly stole. How can I stop this in the future is my main question. The detail of the conversation was very superficial no details were shared or ideas. They were very opposed to it. But they were more than willing to copy and paste text from my site. –  dustyprogrammer May 26 '11 at 19:35
    
Same thing as ideas once you've shared them: it's out there now. The only way to prevent someone from taking anything you've made is to never make it available to anybody. –  Joel B Fant May 26 '11 at 19:48

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