license and copyright

David Johnson david at
Wed Oct 11 02:13:05 UTC 2000

On Tue, 10 Oct 2000, Ferdinando Ametrano wrote:

> 1) I've chosen a XFree86-style licence (or is it called XConsortium/MIT 
> style licence?), that is a BSD style licence without the advertising 
> clause. I append a prototype of this licence at the end of this message.
> Since the license itself has to be copyrighted, my question is: who should 
> copyright it? Is it me?

It's properly a MIT style license. The BSD license is "same same but

The license is most likely copyrighted, but there is no need to
attribute the license copyright holder for its use. The vast common use
is simply to include the body of the license in the source code files
or reference a copy of it included with the package.

Copyright your own code. Even though the license will say "Copyright
(c) 2000 Ferdinando Ametrano", it is the code that is yours and not the

> 2) I and my colleagues will be providing the initial code base to the 
> project. Should we have a copyright line in each file?

Each separate file should have a copyright line. It isn't necessary but
it is good practice. If someone uses only one file of yours for their
own project, it helps that it has a copyright line. I was going to use
a code snippet that I had found in one of my programs, but by the time
I got around to using it I had forgotten where I found it, or even
which license it was under.

It's a good idea to have a single copyright holder for the work. If
there are only a few core developers, then just include all their names
in all copyright lines. If there are more than this, it may be wise to
create a legal "umbrella" organization of some kind, like Apache or
KDE. This prevents arguments over whose code is whose, as all the code
belongs to the copyright holder unless specifically noted. (not that it
makes a huge difference with MIT licensed code though)

> 3) What about later changes of existing (copyrighted) files? Should every 
> developer copyright his modification?

>From what I recall, and I may be wrong, patches and modification of
less than ten lines or so can be included under the main copyright.
Larger submissions are copyrighted by their submitters. You certainly
don't want someone else holding copyright to the "free foo" line that
you forgot to include :-)

As a *suggestion* only, you could make a policy that states all
submissions for the "official software" that add, remove or modify ten
lines or less will automatically fall under the main copyright, and
that all submissions larger than that need to be either restricted to a
single file, or have the copyright explicitely assigned to the copyright
holder. Of course you still need to attribute your submitters! This is
only common courtesy.

Another approach is to segregate the copyright lines to the function
headers, where they will not inpinge upon the code readability, but
still be contiguous with the code they belong to. 

This is project management policy, and it needs to be figured out
before the project starts. But since it has already started, then it
needs deciding before it gets released.

> Wouldn't this approach turn every file into a mess of copyright lines?

In practice, not really. I see lots of attribution and copyright lines,
but they are usually gathered all together in one place. 

David Johnson

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