In many licenses you have to (or can?) state who is the author of the project, which is the one who "owns" the intellectual property (= the copyright holder). In the MIT license it e.g. is said like this:

Copyright (c) %year% %copyright holders%

Note: I use % here as a indicator for a variable.

So which of the following "copyright holders" is valid and if not, why not? (To have a complete list I also included the usual copyright statements. They should be easy to answer.)

  • The complete way:

    %first name% %second name% <%mail address%> or %second name%, %first name% <%mail address%>

    Paul Speer <[email protected]> or Speer, Paul <[email protected]>

  • The simple way using your full name:

    %first name% %second name% or %second name%, %first name%

    Paul Speer or Speer, Paul

  • Only using your first name:

    %first name%


  • Using a pseudonym, which is rarely used (so not something generic such as "softwaredeveloper") and can be assigned to you (because you also use it on GitHub, ...):



  • Using a pseudonym, which not so rare:

    %common pseudonym%


  • Using a name of a company registered in the US:

    %registered company%

    Acme Corporation

    Additional question: As this company might not be registered in non-US countries might mean the license is only valid in the US?

  • Using a name of a company not registered anywhere:

    %unregistered company%

    MyStrangeCompany (MSC) Corporation

  • Referring to a author file:

    %refer to author file%

    see AUTHORS or see AUTHORS.txt or see AUTHORS.txt file

    In the "AUTHORS(.txt)" file a list of contributors is added in a way you consider valid. So the authors are e.g. listed in one of the above ways per line.

    Note: I have often seen this in addition to a "usual" copyright holder as listed above. (so it might be %first name% %second name% and other contributors, see AUTHORS file.)

  • Referring to the contributors in general:

    %refer to contributors%

    Paul Speer and contributors

    Note: I have seen this used "in the wild".

  • Referring to the contributors in general in addition to a valid author:

    %copyright holder% and %refer to contributors%

    All %project name% contributors

  • Just leave it out and only state Copyright (c) %year%:

  • 4
    If you're never going to try to enforce the license then you can put whatever you like. If you think you might ever want to enforce it though, you better put something you can prove refers to you. Aug 8, 2016 at 23:08
  • 2
    As an aside comment, since it doesn't really answer anything, I'll point out that your example in %unregistered company% may be illegal in many jurisdictions. You may not use the term "Corporation" to refer to anything that is not registered as a corporation. In Massachusetts, where I actually read what the rules were, they actually had around a dozen words in that category.
    – MAP
    Aug 10, 2016 at 4:57

2 Answers 2


Most of those ways would be considered valid. The first-name and pseudonum forms, along with completely omitting any copyright holder, should not be used, they don't provide enough information to confirm the identify the author. Referring to another file without naming any primary copyright holder should be discouraged, it's bad form to not have at least some identification of the copyright holder directly in the copyright notice. Email addresses are good for making contact with the copyright holders easier and so should be encouraged but they aren't required.

As far as company names go, the legal name of any entity which can hold the copyright can be used in the copyright notice. That the company's registered outside the US makes no difference. However, using the name of an entity that doesn't hold the copyright should be avoided (eg. don't use a company name if you wish to hold the copyright personally).


Who is the copyright holder is governed by copyright law, not the license (the license works in the frame of the law). If you put "Authored by Marvin the Martian" in your code, that doesn't change the fact that you wrote it, and you own it. And in some jurisdictions (e.g. Germany) the copyright protections last for 70 years after the dead of the author or (if no author can be determined) 70 years after writing, so to be able to identify the author can be important. And if you want to pass on your rights to somebody else, or enforce your rights against somebody trying a ripoff, you'd have a hard time proving you are really that "Marvin the Martian".

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