8

I noticed the GNU GPL v3 license created by Github is very different than the one created by Netbeans. One of the differences is the first line in Netbean's is Copyright (C) 2016 hotwisp Must the GPL include the real name or pseudonym (e.g. username) of the copyright holder or author?

How could the GPL be different between Netbeans and Github? Here is the rest of the license added by Netbeans:

This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
(at your option) any later version. This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details. You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program. If not, see http://www.gnu.org/licenses/.

I would include Github's but it's over 600 lines long! Is the GPL licnece itself copyrighted? For example are you free to modify it as seen fit, and that's what Github or Netbeans did?

7

These are two different things.

The file added by Github is the text of the GPL itself, which is © 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc., and may not be modified:

Copyright © 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc. http://fsf.org/

Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

The short text added by Netbeans is the license grant, described in the GPL after the terms and conditions:

each file should have at least the “copyright” line and a pointer to where the full notice is found.

<one line to give the program's name and a brief idea of what it does.>
Copyright (C) <year>  <name of author>

This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
(at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.  See the
GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
along with this program.  If not, see <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/>.

You can't add your own copyright notice to the GPL itself, but the license grant should bear your own notice, not the FSF's, and be reproduced in the header of every source file. (The GPL itself traditionally goes in a file called COPYING at the root of your project.)

3

Is the GPL license itself copyrighted? Are you free to modify it as seen fit?

Yes it is, and no you aren't.

You can see the full, copyrighted text of the GPLv3 here, which should be exactly the same as what you saw on GitHub.

If you scroll right to the bottom, you'll see the heading How to Apply These Terms to Your New Programs, with a shorter summary of the license. This summary should be exactly the same as what you saw on Netbeans.

This shorter summary is also copyrighted, and is provided for use where including the full license text would be prohibitive - eg. at the top of every source file. There's also a shorter version there for outputting to the terminal when a command is run.

In the these two shorter cases, the full license text should also be provided as part of the program, usually in a file called LICENSE. Otherwise, it's always available at the GNU website.

Must the GPL include the real name or pseudonym (e.g. username) of the copyright holder or author?

It's important to note here that the copyright notice you saw in the Netbeans license is not part of the GPL - it's the copyright notice for the actual program. That copyright notice is then followed by the GPL notice.

Although it's not required to make a program copyright, this copyright line is most certainly recommended (no matter which license you use, or whether you use a license at all), and the copyright line should include something that distinguishes the author. I would usually use my real name, but a program is still under copyright if a pseudonym is used.

There may be slight downsides to using a pseudonym - for more information on this you can see this PDF from copyright.gov which says in part "An author of a copyrighted work can use a pseudonym or pen name" and "If a copyright is held under a fictitious name, business dealings involving the copyrighted property may raise questions about its ownership". The copyright for pseudonymous works may also be linked to a standard timeframe rather than the author's life + 70 years.

  • When I add the GPLv3.0 license to a repository on GitHub, the name of the author is not required in any part of the license, but after END OF TERMS AND CONDITIONS, where it is suggested to add a notice (to each file) which contains the name of the author(s) ({one line to give ...} Copyright (C) {year} {name of author}). On the other hand, the MIT license requires the insertion of the author's full name. It seems to me that it's more likely for a GPL-licensed program to "loose" the name of the author than for a MIT-licensed one. Still the former is considered stronger! What am I missing? – Enrico Maria De Angelis Oct 20 '17 at 17:58
  • 1
    @EnricoMariaDeAngelis That’s probably worth posting a new question about, but briefly, the ‘strength’ of those licenses isn’t about copyright, it’s about requiring people to use the same license when they modify/redistribute your work (GPL) or allowing them to do whatever they like (MIT). In both cases, you still own full copyright. MIT doesn’t require a full name, just like GPL doesn’t. You can use a pseudonym for both. But I’d usually recommend using your full name to have more strength in the copyright. – Tim Malone Oct 20 '17 at 19:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.