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My team at a non profit organization designed and developed a niche software product starting 2012. It was licensed under the MIT license until January 2022. Thereafter the license changed to a commercial license, since we weren’t able to continue development without any funding and no one was using or contributing to our souce code.

A state-funded organization decided to develop a visually exact copy of the software starting June 2022.

It is clear to me that any entity was allowed to do whatever they wanted with our software until January 2022.

Is the state-funded organization allowed to create an exact visual copy of the software after we changed the license before they started development? They did not use any part of our source code.

As stated in [1] the "look and feel" of a piece of software seems to be protected by copyright. The question is, if that is still the case if the software was published in the past using the MIT license?

[1] How far can a program's user interface be copied before it becomes copyright infringement?

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    Has the functionality or visual interface changed in your commercial licensed version compared to the one you had previously distributed under MIT?
    – Dan Getz
    Oct 19, 2023 at 15:47
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    I'm unclear what their copy is based on. Is their copy based on versions released under the MIT license or does it incorporate changes from proprietary-licensed versions? It doesn't matter when they copied, but rather what version they copied.
    – user71659
    Oct 19, 2023 at 21:19
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    The fact that it's a state-funded organisation seems irrelevant for this. The MIT license allows anyone to copy the code and produce derivative works, as long as they include a copy of the license, and as long as they started from the MIT-licensed version (i.e. a copy of the code and/or binaries from the January 2022-or-before version).
    – Brandin
    Oct 20, 2023 at 6:41
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    "They did not use any part of our source code [to produce the visually-identical version]" -- how do you know they didn't copy the code from before January 2022 (allowed under the MIT license) to produce the visually identical version (and distributing a binary of that visually-identical version would also be allowed under MIT)? Even if you've taken the code offline now, it's still possible they got a copy from before that, or from someone else who archived a copy of the MIT-licensed version before you took if offline.
    – Brandin
    Oct 20, 2023 at 6:57

2 Answers 2

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The MIT licence is not revokable

You gave them permission to do what they are doing forever.

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It depends on how many protectable elements have been added or considerably modified since you switched to the commercial license. Anything that you published before changing the license is fair game, as Dale M's answer notes.

Furthermore, user interfaces can be copyrightable, but only insofar as they comprise copyrightable elements. If your UI is a few blocks of text on a solid-colored background, that'll be a "no" for UI copyrightability. (The text itself may be separately copyrightable.) Likewise, if your UI hasn't changed since you switched licenses, then it may be protected by copyright, but you gave them an irrevocable license to copy it, so you have no case against them.

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  • The userinterface is fairly complex and very unique, so it is probably protected by copyright. They did not use any of our MIT licensed code but instead developed a visually identical copy based on other technologies after the license was changed to commercial. Does the MIT license still apply to their copy? Oct 21, 2023 at 8:30

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