I am making a direct (probably free/libre) competitor to a minor element of Microsoft Office which is soon due to cease development.

Can I use a modified version of an existing Microsoft program icon as the icon for my software?

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    Hi. Welcome to GDSE. In my opinion, it's not worth the risk. Just make your own icon, or find/buy one that you can use legally. Copyright law also covers the making of derivative works - but you can ask your lawyer about that. I'm not a lawyer.
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 5, 2018 at 9:06
  • Not a lawyer but: it's my understanding you can trace over an image by hand, and that's allowed. I sometimes do this with elements of photographs I find online. But you also have to be concerned about trademark law. If the image is a "mark" then you can't used it, period.
    – markspace
    Oct 5, 2018 at 17:22

1 Answer 1


No, you can not base your icon on another icon that is a clear copyright breach. Being a free software has no bearing on the issue.

See what your trying to do is piggyback on somebody else's work because its already recognized by your potential users. This is exactly the kind of thing copyright is trying to prevent.

You need to do your own icons and do the work of making people familiar with your icon and your tool. Yes this means time and effort need to be used, which is kind of the point.

  • Specially if it is a direct competitor
    – Luciano
    Oct 5, 2018 at 8:25
  • Fair use could be applicable and legal to what @jamesson is suggesting. Further to this, fair use and legal requirements differ from country to country. This is not a comment I feel is answerable by anyone other than a law professional who specialises in copyright law.
    – Electron
    Oct 5, 2018 at 8:38
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    @InvariantChange I dont think so, in this case the free software is still a competing product. It would be totally different if you would be using this is some closed context though. But in itsef being freeware is not a fair use exception. Otherwise it owuld be incredibly easy to defeat copyright.
    – joojaa
    Oct 5, 2018 at 10:53
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    Reminds me of this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapper%27s_Delight
    – Electron
    Oct 5, 2018 at 11:07
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    @InvariantChange - 1) IMHO not a shock that it's reminiscent really, looking at the active party; 2) Microsoft's primary IP holdings are based on US IP law, so Joojaa's answer is applicable in this case - moreover, even if the direct legal aspect varies slightly per jurisdiction, the ethical dimension is clear: OP states "...modified version of an existing Microsoft program icon..." to which the commonsense IP answer is: "No", and to which the ethical answer is "No". Which part of "may I intentionally violate someone's existing IP?" seems fuzzy enough for a "yes"?? Oct 5, 2018 at 16:51

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