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Suppose that a person has written a computer program that s/he wants to publish on GitHub using as its name the last name of a professor who wrote a book on a topic related to the computer program.

My gut feeling is telling me, that the developer should probably try to contact the family of the professor (supposing that he died at least 10 years ago) and have their consent. The name of the computer program would be intended as a kind of the tribute to his work in the area.

Does it make any difference if such a program is published commercially?

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  • This asks what the law does and does not permit. It is not a request for legal advice, and should not be closed on that basis. If it is so closed, I will vote to reopen it. Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 20:49

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Copyright, No

Copyright does not protect names, titles or short phrases at all. While it might be ethical to obtain the permission of the family of this professor, they could not successfully bring a copyright suit because of such use.

Personality Rights, Maybe

However, in some jurisdictions (including some, but not all, US states) a natural person has personality rights, sometimes also called rights of publicity. Where these rights are recognized, one cannot use a person's name, image, voice, or "persona" to market a commercial product without permission from the person whose identity would be used.

In some jurisdictions personality rights end with the death of the person, in others they last for a number of years after the person's death. Without knowing the specific jurisdiction involved, it is not possible to say what rights the family of the professor might have under this theory. In some jurisdictions the matter is not yet clearly settled.

The relevant jurisdiction is usually the place where the person resides, or resided at the time of the person's death.

One would be wise to do research on personality rights in the relevant jurisdiction, or engage a lawyer who is knowledgeable in this area.

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