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Subject: Re: [boost] Copyright-less licence references
From: Gennadiy Rozental (rogeeff_at_[hidden])
Date: 2015-09-16 18:35:31

Rene Rivera <grafikrobot <at>> writes:

> I suggest you stop this thread as it's not going to help anyone. The only
> way to answer these questions to any satisfaction is to retain legal
> counsel. Which is what we did to get the license and copyright guidelines
> we have now. If you want to change the guidelines it might be more
> beneficial to bring up the issues with the steering committee and the

Yesterday I contacted Daniel Berlin, who has a long track record on OS
copyright issues and who is responsible for setting Google's policy on
copyrighting Google's OS projects.

Here is a very short summary of his reply: Copyright notices in source code
are legally worthless.

Here are excerpts from his reply in a form of my questions and his answers.

Q: Do lawyers recommend putting copyright notices in source code?
A: No, they don't.
Or at least, not smart lawyers.
I agree plenty of lawyers cargo cult this, but anyone with a brain realizes
it does nothing.

Q: Doe Joe has a copyright on the file if he adds "Copyright Joe Coder
2010" on top?
A: No. It's just a notice. if others own stuff in the file, it just makes
the notice wrong.

Q: What about changes made since 2010? What about changes made by other
A: Copyright always starts at creation time of the part written by whoever.
So if multiple people contribute, each person owns copyright on the parts
they contribute, and that copyright started when they wrote that part.
It doesn't matter what they put in the notice.

Q: If two people has copyright on top of the file who has copyright to
what? Can I change notice introduced by someone else?
A: Again, copyright is separate and independent from the notice. Changing
the notice has no effect on legal ownership. The notice is mostly
meaningless, and hearkens back to a time when the notice was required to
maintain a copyright.

That has not been true in 198 countries since 1988.
Notices have not been legally required to maintain copyright since then,
and in fact, have basically no legal effect.

Q: In formal proceedings will anyone ever look at these?
A: The only case these notices *ever* come into play is in the following

1. You have no notice, or your notice is wrong
2. Someone buys a license from another person, *reasonably* relying on a
wrong notice to believe that person had the right to license them the work.
3. You sue that person for copyright infringement

#2 is called "innocent infringement". It is the only thing the notice
The person committing innocent infringement must
A. Actually acquire a license to use the software from somebody they
B. *reasonably* believe has the right to license them the software because
C. The notice is wrong.

The likelihood of this ever happening is basically zero (and in fact, there
are zero cases of innocent infringement i can find in the US in the past 10

Given that, and how much time people waste on copyright notices, we chose
to get rid of them rather than waste time on them.

Q: Why Google's OS software has "Copyright <project> authors 20xx" in
source code?

We only do this because most of the licenses refer to copyright notices,
and when we don't have them, people get confused. We otherwise do not want
them or care about them.

So, here you go. Feel free to consider this when setting the policy.


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