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My question is hopefully simple--should I copyright my work (art, software, web design, etc.) under my real name or my screen name? My real name and screen name are also easily connected with a bit of searching, so does it really matter in the end?

I'm not a professional (at this point).

I read this question: Is it a bad idea to sell Android apps in the Android Market under your real name? and they recommended releasing on the app market under a company name.

I also read this question: On what name should I claim copyright in open source software?, but that didn't answer my question.

I know it probably matters for big projects, but for little projects, does it matter?

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Take the advice of the first "article" you linked to. –  David Cowden Jun 29 '12 at 22:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I would recommend you copyright and licensing your code under your business name.

The question you are asking isn't about linking to your real name, it's about providing the legal niceties a business structure offers. And yes, it matters for little projects as well as big projects.

Even though it was ridiculously easy to link through to what you claim is your real name, you should still consider using a business name. I say "claim" because nobody knows if you're a dog or not. Personally, I'm just a very sharp border collie.

All of the situations assume that you see continued success, and perhaps even astronomical success with selling your software.

  • When you bring other developers on board, it's easier to have them assign copyright to a business entity. Likewise, if they are given joint ownership in the firm, assigning the assets (copyright and licensing claims) to a business entity allows things to be dividable.
  • How about when you decide to venture off to something else and want to sell off the assets you have delivered? Instead of having to piecemeal everything, you can sell the business itself. It's a much simpler transaction.
  • Think of yourself as building a brand right now. If you decide to pursue other lines of business, you can generate another brand at that point. Then you don't have to worry about consumer confusion created by having disjoint products under the same brand.
  • Once you incorporate your business (see additional details below), then you acquire legal protections and additional financial / tax options to consider that may benefit you.

There are the additional psycho-somatic nuances of a business name versus a single person, but the links you provided go into those details.

On the flip side, if things are an abysmal failure, you can abandon said business entity with less damage to your personal name and reputation. You can't skip out on the taint completely, but it minimizes the damages and makes it easier to start over. An example bad case scenario would be someone hacks your popular product and exploits it to push malware all over the place. People will remember that product as the one that got hacked, and the associated business name might be irrevocably tarnished.

You don't have to incorporate right now to gain the benefits of a business name. "Doing Business As" or "Assumed Business Name" is a time-honored construct for your situation. You could very easily switch over to being the business "A Blue Scarab Production" by changing your website and the splash screens of your apps. You can then hire a lawyer later on for incorporation considerations once you start growing in sales.

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Thank you for this great answer! As it is, the so-called "company" I run is not a legally-recognized company. It's just me randomly putting things on the internet under a screen name. I will decide to copyright my projects under my company name, and I believe I'm going to rename it since simply "Abluescarab" never seemed sufficient. Again, thank you for this great answer, it has clarified a lot that I was wondering about! –  Abluescarab Jun 30 '12 at 12:21
    
@Abluescarab - yw, and I would really encourage you to look up Assumed Business Name for your state. I've already googled it for your area, and there's a lot of information you'll want to know. You are correct that a DBA / ABN is not a separate corporate entity so you don't get the legal shielding / tax options. However, when you decide to incorporate it will be much easier to do since you're transitioning from DBA / ABN. –  GlenH7 Jun 30 '12 at 12:57
    
I know that registering as a company, even under an ABN/DBA, is required to be recognized by the US legal system. However, can I get in trouble for running a personal, non-profit "company" under a screen name without registering it? Or will that only have an effect if I get caught in a legal battle? –  Abluescarab Jun 30 '12 at 13:21
    
@Abluescarab "not for profit" gets into a another situation with taxes and needing paperwork to get that official status. The first group you may have a problem with is the Dep't of Revenue and / or the IRS. But that's only if you're not paying taxes on any sales that you are receiving. FWIW, their threshold for an investigation is likely higher than what you're making off of sales. If you follow a donation model (give away the product and ask for donations), then there are no taxes due and no issue. Other legal issues will go back to copyright, which you retain either way. –  GlenH7 Jun 30 '12 at 17:55
    
Seems overly-complicated! Thanks very much for the help! Someday, I'll deal with this, but I don't have the means to right now. –  Abluescarab Jul 1 '12 at 0:16

The real question is, what are you trying to protect, and can you protect it? You're probably trying to provide yourself with the ability to claim that you own the thing you've built, and that you want to have control over how it is used (i.e., you own the copyright and you license the thing's use). So ask yourself: How are you going to prove to an adversary who already wants to avoid your restrictions that you are indeed uB3rC0d3R69? You might need to do so in court - how will you approach that?

You're better off using your real name, or if you want to hide, using a corporate entity of some sort (in the USA, LLCs are the easiest to set up). When you want to "pierce the veil", you'll already have established the relationship between you and it.

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Thank you for the suggestion! I will consider the legal difficulties. As I stated in a comment above, I am going to copyright things under my name, but I will make it clear (hopefully) that I am who I say I am. Hopefully it will never come to a legal battle, but I suppose we all take those risks when we put ourselves out there. –  Abluescarab Jun 30 '12 at 12:22

US Copyright office:

An author of a copyrighted work can use a pseudonym or pen name. A work is pseudonymous if the author is identified on copies or phonorecords of the work by a fictitious name. Nicknames and other diminutive forms of legal names are not considered fictitious. Copyright does not protect pseudonyms or other names.

http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl101.html

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This question is a bit more than that, but thank you for the link! I read it, and it did give a bit of insight. –  Abluescarab Jun 29 '12 at 3:10
    
@Abluescarab - yes and it's mostly unanswerable - I was just interested in whether for instance Mark Twain had to use his real name ! –  Martin Beckett Jun 29 '12 at 3:14
    
Ah, I see. I know the question's one of those things where it's all opinion, but I was hoping that there was some kind of standard or something. –  Abluescarab Jun 29 '12 at 3:16
    
Does this apply to companies? Like can I copyright under my company name or does it have to be under someone's name? –  Cole Johnson Jun 29 '12 at 23:17

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