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Old 02-05-2008, 03:18 PM   #1
sylvaticus
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Question Completely re-writing a software is plagiarism??


Hello.. I have a problem on my C++ application.

Some years ago I has been in contact with a research group that was developing a C++ multi-agent model of agricultural systems.

We worked together for a couple of years within an EU founder research project and I learned C++.

Ended that experience, I decided to develop from scratch a "clone" of such model. I didn't absolutelly copy any class, function, algorithm, line or whatever of such program, even because, as it has been developed for tens of years by different people in different contests, it was quite a "spaghetti code" and it wasn't very clear at all!

Rather, I started again with the very general concepts and I re-wrote from scratch the program, that ended being completely different from those original and I published it as GPL.

Now these people (Germans) sent me a threat letter and asked me to switch off my web-site.

Can anyone tell me if such request has any legal foundation ?? I will particular appreciate those giving me points to their favour..

Antonello Lobianco - http://www.RegMAS.org

Last edited by sylvaticus; 02-05-2008 at 03:20 PM.
 
Old 02-05-2008, 03:37 PM   #2
pixellany
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This is pretty vague. What exactly are they claiming?

Note that plagiarism is not the same thing as violation of a copyright, license, trademark, or some other legal mechanism.
 
Old 02-05-2008, 03:41 PM   #3
sylvaticus
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pixellany View Post
This is pretty vague. What exactly are they claiming?

Note that plagiarism is not the same thing as violation of a copyright, license, trademark, or some other legal mechanism.
They claim to have "intellectual property rights" in RegMAS, as RegMAS "seems to be build on inside knowledge about [their model]"
"This inside knowledge related to source code, algorithms, interfaces, data prepartation, and input files. This knowledge was already generated before the start of the [project we worked together]. Hence it classified as pre-existing know-how to[project we worked together].

The funny side, is that all parts they cited are made completelly different in RegMAS, e.g. the input come form XML files instead of Excel trough a COM interface, and data loaded is different as well..

Last edited by sylvaticus; 02-05-2008 at 03:47 PM.
 
Old 02-05-2008, 04:18 PM   #4
dmail
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My two pence worth.
I am unsure due to many factors, but one thing I do know is I would not take a "threat letter" seriously from any persons other than a solicitor. Even if it was from a solicitor I would then seek legal advice from a qualified person as to where I stand.
 
Old 02-05-2008, 05:14 PM   #5
jay73
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From a strictly legal point of view, they have absolutely nothing on their side that would force you to stop distributing your software. Since you did a thorough re-write, they can't plead copyright infringement. Neither does their solution appear to be patentable. European law spells out the conditions under which patents can be granted. One of the things that is not patentable is software that merely accepts, handles and displays data. And isn't that precisely what your software does? For it to be patentable, a product needs, among other things, to add technical innovation (but how innovative was their idea really?) and it needs to have a physical dimension (e.g. software that drives machines as opposed to simple data processing).

Still, it has been shown time and again that European law only applies to its citizens, not to its politicians and judges. There are quite a few cases where the EU pushed things that are radically at odds with the letter of the law. In fact, if the European Patent Directive (already approved by the European Council in spite popular protest) gets adopted by the EU Parliament as well, virtually any software will become patentable, even things as abstract as algorithms.

There is some reason for concern but I wouldn't start worrying too much until they sent me a proper letter offering concrete legal arguments instead of vague threats. If that happens, you can still seek legal advice.

Last edited by jay73; 02-05-2008 at 05:16 PM.
 
Old 02-05-2008, 08:27 PM   #6
95se
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A lot of non-disclosure agreements prevent you from doing this sort of thing, but it sounds like you learned C++ after starting the job, so they probably didn't make you sign one. Even then, its usually only for a few years after you stop working there, then you're in the clear. Since they didn't send you a letter from their lawyer, I wouldn't worry too much, but its always best to check with a lawyer yourself. Why not ask them if, instead of trying to kill your software, they try to contribute to it (even with suggestions), since it sounds like you fixed a lot of the deficiencies of the old software.
 
Old 02-05-2008, 08:32 PM   #7
choogendyk
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Did you ever have to sign a non-disclosure or non-compete document?

If not, I would say you are free to compete. Since your code is public, they can be free to try to prove that there is duplication of their code. You are confident that there is not.

Ultimately, if they push it, then dmail's advice applies. Get a lawyer.

If you are a small guy with potential, and they are big guys sitting on their laurels, then it could be simple intimidation a la Microsoft. They might even sue on the assumption that you can't afford to defend. If that happens, get advice from the lawyer on whether you can collect costs or damages for malicious suit.
 
Old 02-05-2008, 09:55 PM   #8
sundialsvcs
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I think that it would be most appropriate for you to seek the counsel of a qualified attorney (solicitor) in this case.
 
Old 02-06-2008, 01:37 AM   #9
sylvaticus
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Thanks all... it is what I will do... (contacting a solicitor).

I never signed any non-disclosure non-compete letter and I already run unsuccessfully a similarity recognition software on my source again their source..

/Antonello
 
Old 02-06-2008, 08:03 AM   #10
pixellany
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I would not take this to a lawyer (or anywhere else) without first sending a polite letter asking the company what their specific issue is. You can (politely) explain your position but--without specifics from them--it is better not to try and explain or justify anything.


Any professional is potentially going to be tempted to make it into something bigger. As a minimum, they are motivated to generate work for themselves. In the limit, they could have liability exposure if they fail to protect you.
 
Old 02-06-2008, 09:23 AM   #11
sylvaticus
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Originally Posted by pixellany View Post
I would not take this to a lawyer (or anywhere else) without first sending a polite letter asking the company what their specific issue is. You can (politely) explain your position but--without specifics from them--it is better not to try and explain or justify anything.


Any professional is potentially going to be tempted to make it into something bigger. As a minimum, they are motivated to generate work for themselves. In the limit, they could have liability exposure if they fail to protect you.
Yes, many has suggested me to act in this way. Asking them on what their issue is.
I ran also a code similitude finder, but I didn't got much from it:
http://regmas.org/codeMatch/
 
Old 02-06-2008, 11:02 AM   #12
schneidz
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disclaimer: i am not a lawyer
here's what i think, if you stole lines of code from the original then you may be in danger of a lawsuit.
else you wrote software that does a similar function of other software. it would be like visicalc sueing open-office or ms-office or coral wordperfect for stealing their spreadsheet idea. like jay73 said software is mostly unpatentable.
 
Old 02-06-2008, 11:10 AM   #13
crashmeister
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I second the suggestion of pixellany don't get a lawyer involved yet.Try to find out what their problem seems to be and don't escalate the situation needless.Just make sure that you can prove that you inquired about the nature of the problem and yes - I'd do that by registered snail mail.
Since you seem to work with an italian University I think it should be no problem finding a lawyer real quick if you need one.
 
Old 02-06-2008, 11:21 AM   #14
schneidz
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to add a little more to my previous statement; the only leverage that they have is that you have access to their source-code. but that would be like suspecting a bank teller of stealing because they have access to money
 
Old 02-06-2008, 11:37 AM   #15
pixellany
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I don't want to exacerbate the belaborment** of this, but...

It is not up to you to prove that you did nothing wrong. The burden of proof is on the accuser. You can, of course, say to them that you do not believe you did anything wrong. Discuss the details only in response to specifics from them.

**My spell-checker doesn't like this, but I'm keeping it......
 
  


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