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I have an open source project, but I don't want to use my real name in the license file. Legally, can I just use my project hosting username instead?

I know programmers Are Not Lawyers™, but I'm looking for advice from people who may have dealt with simlar problems.

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If you can register your username as a fictitious name (D/B/A) with your locality's equivalent of VA's State Corporation Commission, or otherwise make a legal identity out of it (for example, by incorporating), sure. There needs to be some way to tie that name to a person, though. Only persons (including corporations) generally have standing to sue in the event the license was breached. –  cHao Nov 9 '11 at 18:41
    
Which jurisdiction are we talking about here? –  Michael Kjörling Nov 10 '11 at 14:54
    
@MichaelKjörling The United States. –  Maxpm Nov 11 '11 at 3:42
    
@cHao: It might be good to move that to an answer. –  compman Nov 13 '11 at 3:54
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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Copyright law permits anonymous and pseudonymous works. Though, anonymous or pseudonymous, is not synonymous to unidentifiable:

Though, copyright is far from always needs registration.

So, the answer is definite "yes"

Note also about differences between ownership and authorship

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In an open source project, if you care about your legal rights at all, you will (1) register and (2) use a legal identity when doing so. Without doing both, you'll find it quite difficult to prove you even own the code. Open source implies that everyone else has the source code, and in the case of something hosted on (say) GitHub, they'll usually have the entire revision history as well, so you can't really use either of those as evidence anymore. –  cHao Nov 13 '11 at 12:52
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Pseudonyms are accepted for copyright registration, but it's not implicit, you will have to register your work at copyright.gov.

They will ensure that the link is made between you, the real person, and the pseudonym you use. Otherwise, you will have more difficulties to prove you are the original author.

More information about software copyrighting can be obtained in this PDF.

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You don't need to put any name in there at all. The license should apply to contributions from other people too anyway, so it shouldn't just be a grant from you. It should be worded as a grant from the individual authors of the various elements.

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Copyrights and licenses are property. Any claim of ownership needs to be made by a legally recognized body. This can be a real body, any sort of company, a charity, a church, a trust, or a foundation. For copyright purposes a well known nickname or pseudonym (as used by many cartoonists ) is possible, but, you need to go through some hoops to establish the link between you and the nickname. e.g. for Meatloaf or Bono no extra action would be required a they are publicly recognized figures, but, for a common or little known name you need to establish a link back to yourself. –  James Anderson Nov 10 '11 at 1:57
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