I created an open source software component which I put under the MIT license. I chose it because I don't like legalese, and this license is about the shortest there is apart from public domain (which would allow people using my work without crediting me).

Now a need may arise to transfer the copyright to a third party for reasons I don't want to discuss further now. So, instead of

Copyright (C) 2018 My Name

It would read in the future:

Copyright (C) 2018 Company name

However, this means that people don't have to credit me; they have to credit the company. The MIT license does not have a requirement to specify the true author; it has only a requirement to specify the copyright holder, which may be different from the true author. So I would like this much more than the previous option:

Copyright (C) 2018 Company name
Authors: My Name

The question is, which simple and permissive license should I choose? Or should I create a new by very slightly modifying the MIT license?

I have several options:

  1. Modify MIT license to require specifying the author(s) in addition to the copyright holder(s).
  2. Select some existing license, if there is such a license. But my requirement is that the license must be very short, very much like the BSD or the MIT license.
  3. Dual-license under MIT license modification (1) and some other existing license that also requires retaining authorship statements. In this case, since people can choose the MIT license modification (1), it is not a problem if the other existing license is somewhat longer, unless the other existing license contains some unreasonable clauses like patent grants, which the company might see problematic.
  4. BSD license with advertising clause.

The options have these benefits:

  1. This is exactly what I'm looking for.
  2. This is exactly what I'm looking for, if there's such a license.
  3. This allows people not tolerant of license proliferation to use my software, while at the same time allowing more reasonable people to use, distribute and modify my work with the modified MIT license having extremely fair and reasonable terms.
  4. No benefits, really. This is just evil.

I can see these drawbacks in these options:

  1. Modification of the license leads to license proliferation and extra effort because people can't say that "hey, this is the license I'm familiar with and it's ok".
  2. While I would like this option the most, there may not be an existing MIT/BSD-like license, so this option may prove unfeasible.
  3. If the other license is long, it may contain some problematic clauses like patent grants.
  4. This is GPL-incompatible. Although I don't like GPL, I don't want to cause problems to people trying to integrate my work with GPL'd work.

My question is: which option should I choose? Is there a permissive non-problematic license that requires distributors to retain authorship statements?

  • What are you hoping to gain by being mentioned as the author of the software. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Apr 5 '18 at 17:15
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    @BartvanIngenSchenau Oh, that's an obvious question. Of course the answer is that I can use the software as a marketing material in the hope of getting a better job in the future. It's always best that statements can be verified both ways (so if my CV having my name refers to some software I have authored, the software would also refer to my name). – juhist Apr 5 '18 at 17:33
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    are you specifically avoiding granting patent use? if this is a non-issue, the NOTICE file that accompanies Apache 2.0 will serve your purpose (and software patents are evil, right?) – d3vid Apr 6 '18 at 11:45

As you are considering changing the license on the project, I can only assume that you are the sole copyright holder.
As you are also transferring your copyrights, any clause in a copyright license requiring attribution of you as the author can simply be deleted by the new copyright holder once you have transferred your rights.

This means that none of the options you have thought about is effective in getting what you want.

The options that will be effective in keeping attributions are:

  1. Don't transfer your copyrights. The company you are transferring the rights to can use the project under the MIT license and add their own copyrights next to yours for the future development they do.
  2. In the contract for the transfer of the copyright, add a clause that you must be acknowledged as the original author at least in the copies maintained/published by the company.

The problem, it seems to me, is that you are trying to re-invent the concept of moral rights, these being the (often inalienable) right of the original author to retain credit for - rather than any kind of exploitable interest in - an original work.

Broadly speaking, moral rights have enjoyed their best protection in civil law jurisdictions, while common law jurisdictions - specifically including the US - have not generally given them much attention, and where they have, it has often been fairly dismissive. Quoting from the above-linked article:

Moral rights have had a less robust tradition in the United States. Copyright law in the United States emphasizes protection of financial reward over protection of creative attribution. The exclusive rights tradition in the United States is inconsistent with the notion of moral rights as it was constituted in the Civil Code tradition stemming from post-Revolutionary France. When the United States acceded to the Berne Convention, it stipulated that the Convention's "moral rights" provisions were addressed sufficiently by other statutes, such as laws covering slander and libel.

When you try to force a system into doing something it has specifically decided not to do, you can end up making a bit of a dog's breakfast. In the case of free-software licensing, a previously-unseen licence, or an old one with odd custom add-on clauses, can be such a turn-off that your software has a huge barrier of entry to overcome.

I think your best bet is to put the software up on your own website, and try to keep the copy there the most up-to-date one, incorporating as many changes as are fed back to you. Using a weak copyleft licence isn't helping you with this, but you've said you don't like strong copyleft, so I presume you're ready to deal with the consequences of that.

Consider registering a domain name that matches the name of the project; .org is a traditional home for such, if it's not already taken. Transferring the copyright doesn't implicitly include transferring either the domain name, or trademark interest in the name if such exists. If you're really serious about this you might want to consider paying to register the trademark, and explicitly excluding that interest from the copyright assignation. That way, people who search on the software are always likely to find a trail that leads straight back to you as the original author.

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