I have a project that I would like to retain copyright over conceptually while releasing the prototype code. It's a novelty digital clock. I posted some videos of the prototype online and some people asked for the code.

I don't really care about protecting the technology within the code as any half decent programmer could work that out pretty easily. And I have no problem with people recreating the project as long as they don't start selling it. It's mostly about preventing anyone from stealing the idea and / or design to sell it.

So do I even need to license the code, assuming that copyright law will protect me from that?

  • Have you considered GPL? – planetmaker Mar 6 at 0:34

"I would like to retain copyright over [my project] conceptually" is the root of your problem. To quote from the first paragraph of Wikpedia's summary, "copyright is intended to protect the original expression of an idea in the form of a creative work, but not the idea itself". So when you try to share the copyright on the expression (ie, the program) while retaining the copyright on the underlying concept, you set yourself up for failure.

Novel ideas can be protected when expressed in an invention [1] by a patent. If you think your machine embodies a patentable idea, then you could apply for a patent on it; how to do that is ouside the scope of this site, and will almost certainly involve paying a patent lawyer.

If you decide not to avail yourself of patent protection, then given what you say about the simplicity of your code, I think that whether or not you decide to free the code will have little impact on whether the market promptly replicates your product.

[1] For a very elastic definition of invention which includes biomolecules and, in particularly insane jurisdictions, business methods.

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