Is there any point in complying with the licence which comes with a project published anonymously (like the initial Bitcoin source code)?

If so, in case of breaking the rules of your license, who has the right to enforce the aspects of a license if nobody takes the ownership of the project? So basically, can you do whatever you want?


1 Answer 1


In order to sue you for copyright infringement, the authors need to reveal their identity. But just because they prefer to stay anonymous now doesn't necessarily mean that they will stay anonymous in the future.

They might get deanonymized against their will. Then they have nothing to lose anymore by going after you. When you annoy them enough, they might even decide that shutting you down is more important than staying anonymous and go public. They might face the challenge to prove that they are indeed the creators after initially publishing anonymously, but there are several ways to prove authorship, like an unopened letter addressed to themselves with the sourcecode stamped before publication or having the private key with which they signed their anonymous mails and releases.

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    An unopened letter proves nothing. Being in possession of the private key corresponding to their public signature would be much more effective. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 4:03
  • They might also realise that they can get $150,000 in statutory damages by filing a copyright lawsuit against you, which is a powerful motivator to stop being anonymous. Or they might die, and a grandchild who inherits the copyright might want a $150,000 sports car. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 17:33
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    @KevinKrumwiede they just have to convince a jury that they are the copyright holder. That can be done fairly easily in practice. A git repository with the timestamps analysed by an "expert" could be good enough, even though it's easily forged a jury could be happy with it. Cases have been won on far less convincing evidence than that, especially in a civil lawsuit where standards for evidence are far lower than a criminal lawsuit. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 17:37
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    @AbhiBeckert They can't collect statutory damages unless they've registered the work with the Copyright Office, in which case they wouldn't be anonymous. The owner of an unregistered copyright can only collect compensatory damages, which are often hard to prove. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 18:55
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    @KevinKrumwiede fair point, although this only applies in the US. The rest of the world doesn't use copyright registration for anything really. And compensatory damages often exceed the statutory amount. Being difficult to prove will not stop someone from trying and blatantly violating a license will put you in a bad starting position with the judge/jury. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 21:14

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