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(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:

Copyright <YEAR> <COPYRIGHT HOLDER>

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. – John Forkosh Feb 19 at 6:54
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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).

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