(migrated from programmers.SX)

I'm placing a copyright notice with some (FOSS) license in a LICENSE file in a software package I'm publishing; or it's a license block in a source file.

It starts like this:


Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted etc. etc. etc.

Ok, so, the year is the year I'm creating the license file / block. That one's easy. But - how should I identify myself, the copyright holder? Obviously, I'm going to write my name, but:

  • Do I specify an affiliation, even if I, rather than the organization, am the holder? e.g. a research institute I work at?
  • Do I specify an address, or a town/city name?
  • Do I write an email address?
    • If so, what if that address is tied to an organization/company, which I've not listed and is not the copyright holder?
    • And what if I only have those problematic kinds of email addresses?
  • If the answer to both previous questions is "no", what's to distinguish me, John Smith, from all the other John Smith's out there?
  • The gpl has a discussion of that here gnu.org/prep/maintain/html_node/Copyright-Notices.html And they somewhere have a lengthier discussion (that I read at some time, but am not immediately finding again) suggesting that you provide an email address and web url (among other info) in your copyright notice. Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 6:54

1 Answer 1


Copyright notices are mostly pointless. What they do is

  • remind people that the software is actually copyright-protected
  • make it easier to reconstruct the copyright history of a file
  • can make it easier to prove copyright infringement (in particular, falsifying or removing notices may be criminal)
  • but mostly they are just a remnant of 80s-era copyright law in the USA where such notices were still mandatory.

The syntax for copyright notices is mainly given by US copyright law, which roughly suggests requires:

(Copyright | ©) <year>(,<year>)* <author-name>
  • The year should be the year where you publish the file, not create it.
  • The name may be your natural name, or you may use a pseudonym.
  • You do not have to provide any contact details, but you may do so (preferably outside of the copyright notice itself).
  • The copyright notice must of course list the copyright holder.
  • If some institution is not a copyright holder, it makes no sense to mention the institution in a copyright notice. Of course you may mention affiliation in related documentation, e.g. as part of a file header or in a readme file.
  • In an academic context, there might be a requirement to acknowledge a funding source in all publications. I would recommend keeping these only in the documentation, or to use a license like Apache 2 or the GPLv3 family that can require the preservation of such attribution notices.

Contact details can be helpful

  • to identify you more clearly, or
  • for users to ask you for support.

The former suggests that long-lived contact details would be more helpful, the latter suggests that providing contact information might not be desirable at all. See also “I have a Toyota Corola” – the story of how the cURL author receives emails from car owners because they found an address in the car's license information. Instead, let your documentation point to a public bug tracker, forum, or mailing list (whatever medium you are comfortable with).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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