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The project I'm involved in currently has headers of the following form:

The X Development Team
Organization A - Organization B - Organization C - Copyright 1999-2018

This file is distributed under the terms of the
GNU Lesser General Public License Version 2.1

But these headers are incomplete: the project has received lots of contributions from people who do not belong to any of the listed organizations. Given that the project has a CREDITS file with a listing of all the authors and their institutions / organizations, I want to change the first part of the headers to the following:

The X Development Team
Organization A and contributors - Copyright 1999-2018
(see CREDITS file for the list of authors)

Keeping "Organization A" hightlighted in such a way makes sense because it is the organization which has contributed the most to the project by far.

I know that this kind of clause "and contributors" is common practice in the FOSS world. But is it also OK to remove explicit mentions of some copyright holders in the process of moving to such a clause (knowing that they are still listed in CREDITS)?

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You must not change existing copyright notices. That would misrepresent the copyright and authorship. In particular, removing the names of copyright holders is not OK. That is usually against applicable copyright law (e.g. §39 (1) UrhG in Germany, or 17 USC 405 and 17 USC 506 (d) in the U.S.), and violates most open-source licenses. (The LGPLv2.1 is not super clear on this, but in Section 1 requires you to publish an “appropriate copyright notice” and “keep intact all the notices that refer to this License”.)

But it's true that in your case, the current copyright notices are incomplete. So it's fine to add another notice. For example changing this:

Copyright 2007 Original Institution A, B, and C

This file is free software under the bla bla bla license...

to something like:

Copyright 2007–2018 the FooProject contributors
Copyright 2007 Original Institution A, B, and C

This file is free software under the bla bla bla license...

For a full list of authors, please see the CREDITS file.

Your argument that only the most important contributors should be acknowledged by name seems “fair” to you, but taking attribution away will always be seen as more problematic than giving attribution in the first place. I therefore strongly suggest that you leave the existing attribution alone, and only add additional attribution with your reference to the CREDITS file.

  • Sorry I forgot to include it in my initial question (now edited), but the header do contain "copyright" and the years. – Zimm i48 Mar 1 '18 at 13:55
  • @Zimmi48 I edited the answer to account for this. I don't know about French law, but other jurisdictions forbid altering or removing copyright notices. – amon Mar 2 '18 at 15:21

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