[License-discuss] BSD 3-clause and copyright notices

Philippe Ombredanne pombredanne at nexb.com
Wed Sep 30 09:12:01 UTC 2015

On Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 6:13 PM, Zluty Sysel <zluty.sysel at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi all,
> After conquering many hurdles along the way, it looks like the company
> I am a part of is willing to release a good part of the source code we
> own as open source software. Before we do that though there are a
> couple of outstanding issues that I was hoping someone on this mailing
> list could clarify. We want to use a BSD 3-clause and immediately
> publish the source code on a public code repository allowing
> contributions from users. The questions that have arisen are the
> following:
> 1) Clause 2 requires users that distribute the software in binary form
> to reproduce the copyright notice. Since the holder of the copyright
> notice is the very same company that makes the source code available
> to them, would it be possible to selectively waiver this obligation to
> a particular set of users without infringing on the Open Source
> definition or the BSD license itself?
> If the answer was negative, would including the existence of such a
> waiver in the license itself preclude it from being considered an open
> source software license?

As the copyright holder you can do as you please.
You do not need to attribute yourself for your own code, though that
is of course nice anyway ;)
No need for a waiver.
A waiver would be rather an awkward and weird thing.

> 2) When accepting contributions to the source code repository from
> external sources, I have seen that is sometimes customary to include
> an additional copyright line to the license text included at the top
> of the source file, crediting the person or company that contributed
> the new code or file.

Either that or an author file. Simpler is better.

> Would then the waiver mentioned in question 1) be in violation of the
> additional copyright holder(s)' rights?

May be not in violation of their rights but in contradiction with your
eventual obligations.

Think about it this way:
What if you were such an external contributor: you worked hard to
provide code enhancements to this project.
And as a thank you note, you have ..... nothing. This would not be
great, would it?

> 3) When reproducing the copyright notice in binary distributions, must
> one parse all source code files to find out all of the contributors'
> names and include them in full? Or is it enough to simply provide a
> LICENSE file that only credits the original author (the company that
> made the source code available originally) so that users of the source
> code can simply reproduce that particular file in their binary
> distributions?

This is your call. Projects often create an AUTHORS file to list
contributors to keep things simple.
And/or list the major contributors in the a LICENSE or COPYING.
Again giving credits to contributors is the _right and nice thing_ to do.
(check out the scancode-toolkit if you want to create such a list of
copyrights, disclaimer: I am an author of it)

> Thank you in advance,

In summary, my 2 cents: The BSD license is simple, so keep things simple.
You do not need to credit yourself in your own redistribution.
Forget about adding waivers or other weird things to it: the weirder
your license, the less likely anyone will want to contribute anything.
I would not touch code with such a weird waiver (even with a very long
And If you are lucky enough to ever receive contributions from others,
giving credit whether required or not is _always_ the right thing and
the nice thing to do.

Embrace open source and be happy!

Philippe Ombredanne

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