What if, for some reason an open source project disgusts a huge company to the level they would do anything to get rid of it. Could they terminate the project? How?

I just showed an open source project to my brother. This project is a free alternative to some expensive programs. My brother asked, why aren't the companies get rid of this software if it causes less revenue for them.

The project: https://github.com/OptiKey/OptiKey

The project in the words of the creator: "It is designed to be used with an eye-tracking device to bring keyboard control, mouse control and speech to people with motor and speech limitations"

I don't know how big are the companies who created the paid software, and I assume this project probably not worth the trouble. Would probably cost more money to get rid of, than to accept the loss of revenue. Let's say for some reason there is a company, who would do anything to get rid of this project, and have the resources to do so.

They could "invite" the author and then "convince" him to remove the project from everywhere. On the way home he could have an "accident". Of course there are many people involved in the project now. They could resurrect it in short time.

Could they send lawyers against the project?

Could they silently remove the author, and put somebody in place, who slowly but surely makes the project worse and worse over time, until nobody is interested in it?

Could they make a bad reputation against the project somehow? like the ice lobby did against an "ice making machine"? Is something similar possible today?

I would really like to know if someone enough power could possibly get rid of an open source project this popular.

If a company couldn't, could the USA get rid of this project without getting suspicious?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hi and interesting first post. I see it as off-topic, because it is more about what a company can do to surpress someone rather than building a world. This is however my opinion, so before you change anything let other users give their opinion as well. If you have any questions, use @<name> or go to the chat as usual (I see you already got some reputation on SO). Greetings, J_F_B_M $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Mar 4, 2016 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ If you're looking for what might genuinely happen then this probably isn't the correct forum. If you're after the weird and wonderful ways that WB members might try to shut down a project then this is the place to be. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Mar 4, 2016 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ One thing about open source projects: they can be made completely anonymous. They can operate out of TOR network, using author's public key as authentication method. As result, the greedy company can't do anything against a culprit whom they can' locate! (...and to this day it's uncertain who's the author of the Bitcoin). $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Mar 4, 2016 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ @user16295 I am looking for answers with creativity as well as believable. When I wrote the question I was thinking about answers this question received. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/23409/… $\endgroup$
    – LaczkoUr
    Mar 4, 2016 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ @SF. Good point. $\endgroup$
    – LaczkoUr
    Mar 4, 2016 at 12:04

2 Answers 2


Well if you want to go for the fictional Evil MegaCorp™ trope then you can make up any kind of shady thing you like.

But if you want to stick to something realistic, then your Big Company is asking the wrong question. The question is not "How do we eliminate the competition?". That is one possible answer out of many to the actual core question, which is:

"How do we keep our business model viable and make a neat profit?"

In this case — when they cannot compete on price alone — they need to get creative. How this usually happens in real life:

  • Beat them at their own game. It is Open Source, right? That means they can use it themselves and package it in such a way that their product is more useful than the gratis version. Example: instant delivery/streaming services, such as Steam and Netflix vs software/movie pirates.

  • Make their own solution available in "Lite" and "Enterprise" editions. The "lite" version provides basic functionality rivalling the gratis version. And the "enterprise" edition provides great perks that are of use to those that can afford to pony up the cash. Example: pretty much every programming and software development tool you have heard of, Visual Studio, IntelliJ, SQL Developer... the list is long.

  • Keep doing what you have always been doing and make it work well enough so that people keep using it out of sheer convenience. Example: Windows vs Mac vs Linux.

  • Diversify and drop non-profitable market segments. Relying on one single business concept is a very poor strategy, you are putting your eggs in one basket. Eventually you will be beaten. And if you are not prepared then, you will sink.

Example of going down: Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia mobile phones.

Example of diversifying and surviving: Axis Communications. Started with making devices that puts printers and hard-drives on the network. But seeing the inevitable future, when printers started coming with their own network cards, and NAS products out-competed them, they were already doing network attached cameras with great success instead.

...just to pick four quick examples.

In ye olde days when information propagation was slow and limited to public print, broadcasting and books, it was fairly easy to do shady stuff and get away with it. But these days — when your reputation can go down the drain as fast as people can re-tweet the damning evidence — going for eliminating the competition is a huge risk. They might be able to... but the Streisand-Effect and similar backlashes will make the possible damage so much more severe that it is preferable to just leave the competition be and take the loss in market share with grace.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. I like to think the same, that shady stuff brings so much risk, it doesn't worth it anymore. $\endgroup$
    – LaczkoUr
    Mar 4, 2016 at 12:08

I dropped an open-source tool because, from memory, the company that adopted its support started charging $300 to download the opensource version or $40 to download their licensed version based on the same code. They could do this because the GPL license allows you to charge for downloading.

It was theoretically possible for someone to re-distribute the $300 version for nothing but the company in question was recognised as the maintainer of the software and so had domain names etc that meant that most of the traffic came to them. This is one of the mechanisms that can disrupt an open-source project to the point where it couldn't be continued.

Hiring the developers and then shutting down or refocusing the project is something that has also happened in the past although I don't have an example off the top of my head.

Suing for license infringement is another attack - Linux has been the target of intellectual property attacks that possibly impacted it's uptake by businesses (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCO/Linux_controversies)

That said, successful open source projects have arisen after disputes with corporate control of open-source projects (Jenkins arose from Hudson after disagreements with Oracle) but the key point is resources - it takes a lot of volunteer effort and many projects just can't muster the support.

Also remember that some open source projects are deliberate corporate competition - Eclipse, an open source competitor to Microsoft's Visual Studio, was financially supported by IBM (who had possibly put at least $40 million into development of the product sourcecode they donated) and a group best described as "companies who had been shafted by Microsoft". This means that one way to kill an open source project is to put a pile of money into developing a better opensource project that doesn't compete directly with your flag-ship product - say not implementing certain features that many business customers need.

You can also give a version of your product away but limit it so that people with money will upgrade to the commercial version. This draws focus and support away from the open source project, demoralising it's development team.

But these attacks aren't greedy in themselves. In some ways giving away a free version of a product that competes with something another group has worked long and hard to develop is just as greedy. You might be doing it for fame or personal satisfaction but that's perhaps just as greedy as wanting to make a dollar.


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