Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Ever since I started programming I've seen a header at the top of most code files indicating some sort of copyright: e.g.

/* Copyright (c) 1998 Innotech */

or

/* Copyright (c) 1998-2008 Innotech */

Conceptually I get the idea... depending on your wants/needs it roughly translates somewhere between:

Hey check it out! I made this! I'm awesome!

to

Don't copy/redistribute this! Our lawyers will come after you if you do!

On the one hand I find the whole thing somewhat humorous as often this is a file that no one outside of in-house developers will ever see, but presuming this line may actually one day "mean something" I'm curious about the date part.

  1. Does a single date imply that the author claims copyright of the file from that date until eternity?
  2. If a date range is used, and not kept up to date has the developer invalidated his/her own copyright beyond the date range?
  3. Without some additional legal filing of some kind - does the copyright header provide any real legal strength of any kind? or are we all just fooling ourselves.
share|improve this question

closed as off-topic by MichaelT, BЈовић, Kilian Foth, Martijn Pieters, World Engineer Jul 29 '13 at 13:45

  • This question does not appear to be about software development within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

3  
For those answering "see a lawyer (in your jurisdiction)", what can we expect a lwyer to tell us different than what you say? I don't mean this to be snarky, just wondering what, if anything, a lawyer can say differently than some random programmer. For example, in the USA, copyright infringement isn't something you can inspect for, it has to go to trial. Also in the USA, anyone can sue anyone else for any thing, and you don't always have to pay everything if you lose. After the USA started observing the Berne Convention in 1976, notices don't have all that much extra meaning. –  Bruce Ediger Dec 12 '11 at 21:08
1  
@BruceEdiger - A lawyer will give you legal advice based on a professional knowledge of the law. The law varies based on where you are. It may or may not mirror what we say but with legal advice and opinions you tend to get what you pay for. –  Chad Dec 12 '11 at 21:40
2  
I've also seen things like "/* Copyright (c) 1998, 2005, 2010 Innotech */", presumably listing all the years in which the file was modified. Is this any better than "1998-2010" or just "2010"? Also, I've heard (but IANAL) that the "(c)" (or "©") is legally irrelevant; only the word "copyright" is meaningful. –  Keith Thompson Dec 12 '11 at 22:59
2  
@S.Lott. I believe the long list of years is not meaningless, It means the file has been modified to some extent and the claim for copyright has been renewed at that year. Because copyright law can and does apply differently depending on the year at which copyright was claimed, the list of years might provide a different set of "protections" –  Kavka Dec 13 '11 at 4:46
4  
This question appears to be off-topic because it is about questions of legality and copyright. Questions of law are best addressed by lawyers in the appropriate jurisdiction. –  MichaelT Jul 29 '13 at 0:28
show 2 more comments

3 Answers 3

up vote 21 down vote accepted

These answers were extracted from the book Patents, Copyright and Trademark, highly recommended. If you plan to buy one, notice that there's a newer edition than that I have.

Does a single date imply that the author claims copyright of the file from that date until eternity?

"The copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, under the following circunstances, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published:"

...

  • "The work belongs to the author's employer under work made for hire principles."

...

(page 192)

If a date range is used, and not kept up to date has the developer invalidated his/her own copyright beyond the date range?

No, simply the copyright will last from the last recorded date onwards.

Without some additional legal filing of some kind - does the copyright header provide any real legal strength of any kind? or are we all just fooling ourselves.

"Contrary to popular belief, providing a copyright notice or registering the work with the USCO is not necessary to obtain basic copyright protections. But there are some steps that can be taken to enhance the creator's ability to sue or stop others from copying:"

...

  • "Place a copyright notice on a published work. (...) Placing this notice on a published work (...) prevents others from claiming that they did not know that the work was covered by copyright. This can be important if the author is forced to file a lawsuit to enforce the copyright, since it is much easier to recover significant money damages from a deliberate (as opposed to innocent) copyright infringer."

...

(Pages 190-191)

For clarification on the issue of registration, mentioned in the comments, the book states, under the same bullet list as the previous excerpt:

...

  • Register works with the USCO. Timely registration (...) makes it much easier to sue and recover from an infringer. Registration creates a legal presumption that the copyright is valid and, if accomplished prior to someone copying the work, allows the copyright owner to recover up to $ 150,000 (and possibly attorney fees) without proving any actual money harm. (...)
share|improve this answer
    
in the US you can't sue unless the copyright is registered –  Jarrod Roberson Dec 13 '11 at 14:03
5  
Are you sure? To my knowledge, many lawsuits were brought in US courts in the last 10 years for violation of GPL'ed software in which the authors never registered, and some of them won. –  Fabio Ceconello Dec 13 '11 at 15:45
    
Jarrod Roberson is correct you must register to sue. no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title. found at –  stonemetal Dec 13 '11 at 15:54
1  
In all I can see at the reference you gave, you're right - althought the book states otherwise. But the exact wording of the paragraph gives room to register only just before filling the lawsuit, although that may reduce success chances, I guess. –  Fabio Ceconello Dec 13 '11 at 19:32
add comment

Does a single date imply that the author claims copyright of the file from that date until eternity?

The date is usually when the file was created (i.e.: first copyright). If the file was changed, then the date range (or list of years) covers the period of changes until the last change (last copyright). Copyright is time-limited, so the timestamp is important.

If a date range is used, and not kept up to date has the developer invalidated his/her own copyright beyond the date range?

No, but it may expire earlier than it should have.

Without some additional legal filing of some kind - does the copyright header provide any real legal strength of any kind? or are we all just fooling ourselves.

Yes, it does.


I'm not a lawyer, and the above is my understanding of things, if you want a legal advice - you should talk to an attorney.

share|improve this answer
    
to add some basic info on copyrights, a copyright expires 70 years after death of the author if known. if the work was for hire or anonymous it expires 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation whichever is earlier. this is in the U.S. –  Ryathal Dec 12 '11 at 21:34
    
@Ryathal - Or to put some sense into the numbers, they were made up roughly to cover a lifespan of an individual's heir. Those also vary depending on the part of the world (europe vs. usa) –  ldigas Dec 12 '11 at 21:54
2  
It is also be worth noting that, while helpful, a header is not needed. Anyone who creates a work that could be covered under copyright is immediately and automatically covered unless the creator states otherwise. The header simply has the effect of making it slightly easier to defend this copyright in court. –  Wilduck Dec 13 '11 at 20:21
add comment

From plagiarism today:

In the United States, since 1978 there has been no formal requirement to mark your work with the copyright symbol, in fact, there are no formalities at all. Copyright is created in a work once it is fixed into a tangible medium of expression. This means your novel is protected the second you hit the “save” button.

Registration isn't mandatory, but it is required in the US to sue someone for damages

you can only get statutory damages for infringements that took place either after the registration or after publication if the work was registered within three months.

A work is protected by copyright the moment it is created, but if you want to enforce that copyright in a court, you need to register it.

There is also the act of protecting your work, although not mandatory, it can affect how a judge or jury sees the damages, if you let something be copied for years you dilute the perceived value of the work.

From plagiarism today:

the level of enforcement or protection you’ve provided a work can be a factor in how much damages are awarded. For example, if a photo you took has been circulating widely for years with no action and you sue one user of the work, that would mitigate the market value of the work, the damage the infringement could have done and how the court feels about the infringement itself. All of these things can affect the final judgment.

Copyright statements are the least you can do to inform someone that what they have isn't their's and who's it really is.

It is a grown up legal consequence retort to the child's "I don't see your name on it".

For all your other questions See a lawyer in your jurisdiction!

share|improve this answer
    
Exactly its not so much about wanting credit for it as it is about preventing you from preventing me from using the code I created or making me pay for using it first. –  Chad Dec 12 '11 at 21:32
3  
I don't believe that failing to protect a copyright has anything to do with its protection, at least in the USA. I believe you're confusing trademark with copyright. In commercial speech, failing to protect a trademark can cause the trademark to lose its special status. That's why I personally can talk about "Windows", but Microsoft documents are always larded with those "TM" and "R" superscripts. –  Bruce Ediger Dec 13 '11 at 4:57
6  
Registration is only necessary for statutory damages, but for actual damages you can always sue. That would be appropriate in a number of circumstances, e.g., if the plagiarist was trying to stop you from distributing your work. –  Donal Fellows Dec 13 '11 at 14:15
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.