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The original author of a MIT-licensed project "merged" a large set of changes I authored, which included an addition of my name to the copyright line of the license. Later on, the original author removed my name, because we had a disagreement and he decided my name shouldn't be there since he never explicitly authorized the addition. The catch is that, although he removed my name, he added "all contributors" to the copyright line. Is the removal of my name legal?

edit: I should also note that the original author acknowledged me as co-author of the project after my large contribution (I have historical proof of this).

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  • This question is about what the law, and a particular license, does or does not permit. It is not a request for legal advice, and does not ask "what should I do?" It should not be closed. – David Siegel Apr 6 at 14:47
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The MIT License (as distributed by OSI) does not include an attribution requirement beyond the requirement to include the copyright notice in any re-distributed copy including derivative works. The same is true of the description of the license as described in the Wikipedia article.

If you sent back to the maintainer a modified version including your own contributions with an MIT license notice and your name in the copyright statement, that is a new work released under that license. The maintainer (or anyone else) may not lawfully use your work or incorporate it into a new derived work without complying with the license terms, which require retaining the copyright notice. By distributing the combined work using a copyright notice not including your name, it would seem that your license is being violated.

You could contact the maintainer with a request that your name be included in the notice or your contributions be removed. If that is not accepted, you could use a take-down notice, or file suit. That last would involve significant costs, of course.

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Presumably you provided your contribution under the MIT license. A court would need to rule on this definitively, and I'm not aware of any cases on point, but implied licenses are a thing and your conduct in providing a contribution to a project under the MIT license would certainly imply that this was your intent.

So if we assume that your contribution was provided under the MIT license, then the terms of that license rule. The project author is distributing your contribution under that license.

You say that your changes added you as a copyright holder to the license file, but that your name was removed later. So presumably the original author accepted your claim to the copyright, and hence that the new version was a now a joint work of both of you. But by the same token it is a joint work of all the contributors. So the author presumably had to choose between listing everyone in an increasingly long list, or moving that list somewhere else, like a contributors file. But either way, you have the right to have your name listed as a copyright holder.

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  • "it is a joint work of all the contributors" – Wouldn't that be a collective work? I've read that a joint work is between co-authors. I think my question boils down to "is it legal to remove a co-author from the copyright line if you also add 'all contributors' to it?" – aleclarson Apr 4 at 15:09
  • A collective work has several separate works distributed together, like a magazine or an anthology. For each such work there is an identifiable author or set of co-authors. A joint work is a single work tyht is the joint product of multiple authors. Collective works are easily separable, joint works are not. All co-authors hold copyright in a joint work unless there is an explicit agreement to the contrary – David Siegel Apr 4 at 15:34

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