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Copyright disclaimer in source

Many (most?) bigger software projects have a large block of legal information at the top of every source file. I have seen anything from a few lines to up to 3 screens of the usual copyright legal-speech.

Now, you get a bit used to these, but I still find them distracting. It's in your way anytime you open a new file.

Given that you want to be sure your copyrights are safely expressed, would it be possible to have _one_ file license.txt that has to come with the whole source package and a very short legal disclaimer on the top of each file pointing to it?

That would not only ease reading but also make changes to the license a much simpler task. If you find a mistake in the license or apply any other kind of change you want to propagate into the next release you don't have to replace the text in thousands of files but once. You also don't have the problem of possible "forgotten" older, out-of-date legal disclaimers in some files.

_
Monday, March 22, 2004

legally the copyright licenses embedded in the source are entirely unnecessary, they do not add any protection.

In larger projects (especially OSS) they can be useful simply for remembering who copyright belongs to for each bit of code.


So 'yes' is the answer, you can put them all in one file, remove them entirely or repeat them thrice over in every page of code, whichever rocks your boat.

FullNameRequired
Monday, March 22, 2004

I agree with FullNameRequired.  Disclaimers not disclosed at time of purchase/contract will not hold up in court, so there's really no point in including them.

Kyralessa
Monday, March 22, 2004

The legal department at a company that I used to work for asked us to put disclaimers in each file... They said that, although it doesn't necessarily provide any direct protection, it goes towards proving that we had taken steps to protect the code which is necessary to prove the code to be a trade secret.

r1ch
Monday, March 22, 2004

heh.  stupid lawyers.  what do we do when the lawyers themselves disagree?  my particularly overpaid member of that group used the term 'effectively pointless' when we had that discussion.

I guess the best advice is for the OP to either consult his own lawyer, or just play it safe and retain the copyright notices and save the price of the visit.
maybe he could purchase a new jetski with the savings :)

FullNameRequired
Monday, March 22, 2004

The basic rule in the U.S. is that anything you write is automatically copyrighted *unless* you say otherwise.  Adding a "Copyright..." message will give you some additional legal protections, but it's not necessary.

However, having a short copyright message is probably good for keeping honest people honest.  Some people might assume, wrongly, that if there isn't a copyright notice, it's fair game.  Generally, something as simple as "Copyright 2004 by BigSoftwareCo.  See License.txt for details." in the source code should be sufficient.

If the company's trying to protect trade secrets, though, it's a good idea to be a bit more "in your face" with the trade secret notices -- if the trade secret notices are prominent, it's more likely that trade secret protection will hold up in court.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, March 22, 2004

Of course, if you don't give your source code away, you don't really have this worry.

.
Monday, March 22, 2004

[not legal advice]
Copyrightable material is considered copyrighted when created, no notice necessary. However, as pointed out, notice helps keep the honest people honest.

You must register your work with the US Copyright Office to obtain statutory damages in a copyright action; otherwise you are limited to injunctive relief (or "make him stop") and actual damages (always hard to prove).

Myself personally - if I created a commercial software app, I'd put a copyright notice on the splash screen, on the Help/About, in the help file, and a one-liner at the top of each file and after each module declaration:
// Copyright 2004  Philo Inc <email@philo.com>, All Rights Reserved.

Put it in your file and module templates and you're done with it. :)

Philo

Philo
Monday, March 22, 2004

Good point Philo.

Just like to point out that it's not a big deal to register for copyright protection. It's a few bucks, $75 US the last time I checked?

Nigel
Monday, March 22, 2004

EOF

apw
Monday, March 22, 2004

But it IS legal advice, Philo.


Monday, March 22, 2004

About the only thing the Royal Mail is good for these days, is proving date of copyright.  You send yourself a sealed copy of whatever it is that you want verifiable and you keep it sealed.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I don't think that would stand up in court. Your opponents would argue that you sent yourself an unsealed envelope, then put your stuff in later and sealed it.

Adrian
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

What do you do on the second accusation of copyright theft? ;-)

Nigel
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Every country has different protections. The jurisdiction of the country of residence of the copyright holder at the time of producing the work is what prevails, though not to the best of my knowledge for the period of time covered by copyright.

If you're worreid set up shop in Spain. It's considered to have the most favourable leglislation for individual copyright owners.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

At the top of every source file, we put:

Copyright 2004, <My Employer>.  All rights reserved.

For source code that stays internal to the company, we put:

Confidential and Proprietary, Not For Public Release.

Myron A. Semack
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

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