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I have written several Java utilities that I am now consolidating in a single, more organized code base. I have never distributed this code, so the only copies are currently in my possession.

While I will probably release the whole thing or most parts of it under an open source license, I'd like at the moment to keep my options open and protect my work in case of inadvertent disclosure e.g. in the case of my having to use it on a computer that I do not own. I might also want to allow people, such as potential employers, to look at the code.

It seems that the simplest way to establish authorship is a license header in the source code files. On the other hand I absolutely detest mile-long headers, especially when I am forced to scroll-down to get to the code - or when the header is larger than the actual code.

Therefore I am trying to write a license header that is as short as possible, while covering most bases. I am currently considering something along these lines:

/*
 * Copyright (c) 2012 John Doe <john.doe@example.com>
 * 
 * All rights reserved. No warranty, explicit or implicit, provided.
 */

Basically I want to establish that:

  1. I am the author of the code.

  2. It cannot be distributed or used in any manner, shape or form. Note that I am mostly trying to defend against well-meant ignorance, rather than people that would outright ignore the rights of the author.

  3. I am not liable if anyone does use the code and their grandmother sets the house on fire or their pet squirrel ends up in Antarctica.

Is this simple copyright notice sufficient to communicate my intent to the vast majority of well-intentioned people that might read it? More specifically:

  • Is the liability aspect completely covered?

  • Does All rights reserved cover both use and distribution? If so, do most people realize that, or should I make it more clear?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I am the author of the code.

This is done with a copyright notice and is completely different from the licence. Copyright says who owns it, the licence says who can use it.

Is the liability aspect completely covered?

I suggest adding something like, "In no event shall the author be liable for any claim or damages."

Does All rights reserved cover both use and distribution? If so, do most people realize that, or should I make it more clear?

It's fine, although again I suggest adding "this is proprietary software."

Ask a lawyer if it really matters to you, although in your case I think it's unnecessary.

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+1 Thanks for your suggestions. –  thkala Mar 9 '12 at 23:56
2  
+1 for the first paragraph. Copyright and licensing are orthogonal, and copyright is all about ownership. –  Ross Patterson Mar 10 '12 at 0:28
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Is this simple copyright notice sufficient to communicate my intent .... well-intentioned people?

well-intentioned people? - Yes

Is the liability aspect completely covered?

Unless you have an infinite amount of lawyers, or are in command of a carrier battle group then you are never completely covered. But to reasonable people - yes

Does All rights reserved cover both use and distribution?

All would seem to mean all, at least to reasonable people. To lawyers? Who knows!

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+1 for the last line. –  Mason Wheeler Mar 9 '12 at 22:48
    
@Thomas Owens - thanks, I couldn't get the quote feature to line wrap –  Martin Beckett Mar 9 '12 at 22:50
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I specified well-intentioned people because enforcing a license is a whole different thing than writing it, exactly because I don't have an infinite amount of lawyers at my disposal. I don't even have one lawyer - if I had, I'd probably have asked them rather than my fellow programmers... –  thkala Mar 9 '12 at 22:51
1  
+1, especially for To lawyers? Who knows!... –  thkala Mar 9 '12 at 22:52
    
@thkala - that seems to sum up the standard copyright/disclaimer. It's what everyone uses and seems reasonable. Does it cover every eventuality in every jurisdiction? No - but what would! –  Martin Beckett Mar 9 '12 at 23:18
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