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I'm aware of a few cases where coders used a pseudonym for attribution instead of their real names.

Examples include:

One thing I've wondered is if attribution is done via a pseudonym, who owns the rights to the code?

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@Yannis Rizos: One question is about using a real name, the other is about using pseudonym -- how're they the same question? –  blunders Feb 22 '12 at 14:05
@blunders The advantages of using a pseudonym are the disadvantages of using your real name and vice versa. –  Yannis Rizos Feb 22 '12 at 14:11
@Yannis Rizos: Don't agree, but also don't believe talking about that would be productive. Guess the main thing I see is that my question: "For example, one thing I've wondered is if attribution is done via a pseudonym, who owns the rights to the code?" - has an answer, and that answer is of value in my opinion and would never result from the question you've linked to in my opinion. If I remove the reference to "pros and cons" in the question and the body of the question, and replace the question with the question I just referenced, would the question still be a duplicate? –  blunders Feb 22 '12 at 16:11
If you revise the question to make it specific about attribution, I'd gladly reopen it. It will still be relevant to the other one, but not really a dupe. –  Yannis Rizos Feb 22 '12 at 16:36

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Copyright law acknowledges, and accomodates, anonymous and pseudonymous copyright holders (see U.S. Title 17 Ch 3 Sec 302, for instance). The author (or their employer, as the case may be) hasn't automatically surrendered all rights to the work.

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The obvious advantage of a pseudonym: you stay anonymous if you want to (even if it may become difficult if you contribute to a well known project). This means several things:

  • You are not bothered with emails from people who know your name and the fact that you participate to the project,
  • If you work in some companies with strict policies, you avoid the problem where all you write belongs to this company¹,
  • You can quit the open source project at any moment, and nobody will bother you, never,
  • During an interview for a job, you will never have to answer questions like this:

Ten years ago, you contributed to project <Name here>. We've downloaded the code of this period from SVN, and there is a lot of unreadable code, difficult to maintain, with plenty of bugs, no comments at all, etc. Can you explain that, and what changed for the past ten years in your coding style?

At the opposite, it means that if you make a professional-level contribution, writing a high quality code, etc., you're not rewarded personally. You can still say that it's your code during interviews, but it's much more indirect.

¹ I'm not a lawyer, so it may be inexact in your country.

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"You can quit the open source project at any moment, and nobody will bother you, never." Suppose a project that has had independent contributors wants to move from a GPL license to a BSD license. Technically, they need the permission from everybody who contributed to the project, but practically they can't get this permission if some of those contributors have used pseudonyms and can't be tracked down to be contacted. However, they can always contact back if they do do anything and assert copyright. It gets really sticky in situations like that. –  Joe Z. Jan 5 '13 at 4:37
Although it could simply be my general distrust of pseudonymous identities when it comes to entering legal agreements with them. I don't want people to have that sort of power over me if I can't have the same power over them. –  Joe Z. Jan 5 '13 at 4:39
This is why in open-source projects that I run, I have a separate "unofficial contributor's license agreement" that says that if they're not willing to reveal their full name or any other details for record-keeping, then any code they contribute will have its copyright forked over to the project and thereby me. –  Joe Z. Jan 5 '13 at 4:44
However, if they do reveal their full name or and contact information (just to the project, not to the public), then they simply give the project permission to do what it needs to do with it. –  Joe Z. Jan 5 '13 at 4:46

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