This article discuss the question of whether a "hello world" program is protected by copyright. It comes to the conclusions that it is not (under US copyright law) because most of it is required by the implementation leaving only the phrase "hello, world" which by itself is too trivial to be copyrightable.

I believe the same reasoning would apply for my jurisdiction which is the UK.

I would like to know how to reason about this. At what point does something become non trivial so that copyright applies?

Things I think should not matter:

  • names of variables or functions
  • the order of operations where the order does not matter

Things I am less sure of:

  • commentary describing what the code is doing
  • adding a unit test suite
  • adding a build system

I have a specific example in mind but am making that a separate question. The point of the question here is if you are working your employer owns the copyright. Obviously it is correct to ask permission to publish from your employer. This question asks if it is necessary for trivial cases such as:

  • asking a question on stackoverflow
  • publishing a project or 'gist' explaining how to do something (which might also be an answer to stackoverflow question).

Related questions:

  • Have you read this question, and if so, what remains unanswered in your question?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 15:24
  • Yes. Its linked in the question. Here I'm looking for advice on what inclusions definitely do or don't push something over the edge of triviality. The answer to the linked question is more concerned about correct attribution. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 15:50
  • The answer concentrates on attribution because that's what the OP there asks, but the attribution requirement arises from the copyrightability of the copied code. The first two paras give some pretty clear evidence that nine lines of code are copyrightable, so you can only be looking for an answer that applies to smaller pieces of code than that. Are you looking for a bright line de minimis test for a piece of copied code, and if so, how big is this code?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 15:57
  • That case was in the US. I am interested in the UK. I'm also not sure that the precedent set by the google oracle case is a good one. To me it seems like an example of the best lawyer won not the law was correctly interpreted but I have not followed that case. I don't know what you mean by "bright line test" but some kind of step by step process could be part of the answer. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 16:03
  • You're interested in the UK, to which you think the google case doesn't apply - but your answer starts by saying a US analysis would probably apply in the UK. I will wait and let the community express their opinion on this pair of questions, but I repeat my warning from elsewhere about purely-theoretical questions being off-topic for this site. If you're asking about a particular piece of code, it would be most helpful to see it.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 16:09


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