Question Regarding Copyright Issue For An Open Source Project

Cinly Ooi cinly.ooi at
Fri Jul 31 12:44:47 UTC 2009

Dear O'Neill, Yan,

May be it is possible to use another established entity, say FSF if
the code is GPLed.

>From enforcement viewpoint, they have more teeth than you.

>From the viewpoint of contributors, they have more certainty on what
to expect than if they assign copyright to you. They will trust
established entity stewardship of their code more than you. This mean
they might be more willing to assign copyright away.

I do advise that you think long and hard about the implication of
assigning copyright to another entity. One big question is are you ok
if they do not in turn, grant you a license for  you to be able to do
the thing you might want with the portion of code you have copyright

I am not a lawyer, but will use common sense and standard open source
practice to try to answer your question

>> (1) When there is a programmer modify my original source code file, do I need to add his name in the copyright section. But, with the increasing number of programmer, isn't that will keep the header almost unreadable?
>> For example :
>>  * Copyright (C) 2009 Yan Cheng Cheok <yccheok at>, John <john at>

The header will be long, but not unreadable. It is good documentation
practice in the first place.

>> (2) If a programmer add a new source code file, the source code copyright shall belong to whom? Me? Or him?

Always assume shared copyright: You own the part you write, he own the
part he writes.

In most jurisdiction, there is a concept of "fair use"/"fair dealing"
that can complicate matter, especially if the contribution is small.

>> (3) If there is a mixed copyright source code in a project, say,
>> A.c, B.c, C.c source code file is copyrighted Yan Cheng Cheok
>> D.c, E.c, F.c source code file is copyrighted John
>> Will there be an issue? Say, in the future, John decide to switch D.c, E.c, F.c using different license, and Yan Cheng Cheok doesn't agree with it...... Who will have a final say then?

That will depends on whether the original license you both agree on
allow the use of a different licenses.

All open source license will say that if  John change license, Yan can
still use old code under the old license.

If the original license allows John to change license, and john did
for other people, then Yan has no say However, John might choose to
use the so-called "social contract" which says that he will write out
Yan's (or other's) code from the new work if they don't like what he
is doing, regardless of whether Yan has a legal right to demand it.
Big projects, like Debian, has such a contract. I think this type of
contract are good practice and reflects professional behaviour.

>> (4) Is there really to have <year> in the copyright information? If I put 2009, does that mean in 2010, I am no longer holding the copyright?

The exact answer depends on the jurisdiction.

Normally, we expect copyright to be death + some number of years, or
at least 50 years for individual.

Some jurisdiction might require a copyright notice for copyright to be
enforceable (rare these days)

It is always good practice to put year in the copyright information.

Best Regards,

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