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Just wondering if text such as the following, which appears inside the source files of a free, open source API, means anything in a court of law

    // Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy
    // of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal
    // in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights
    // to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell
    // copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is
    // furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:
    //
    // The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in
    // all copies or substantial portions of the Software.
    //
    // THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR
    // IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY,
    // FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE
    // AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER
    // LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM,
    // OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN
    // THE SOFTWARE.
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closed as not constructive by Jarrod Roberson, Yusubov, Glenn Nelson, Walter, Robert Harvey Dec 28 '12 at 19:54

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14  
IANAL: The text says you can modify it any way except for removing the copyright notice. My guess is that removing the copyright notice is not a good idea. –  Jeffery Thomas Dec 27 '12 at 19:19
2  
When distributing software you need a license from the author. The main point that's unclear is how a court would calculate damages. –  CodesInChaos Dec 27 '12 at 19:20
3  
Why do you want to remove the copyright notice in the first place? –  Timo Geusch Dec 27 '12 at 19:21
1  
I would suggest reading Circular 92 Chapter 5 section 506(d) of the Copyright law. –  MichaelT Dec 27 '12 at 19:25
1  
So you're asking us for permission to be a douche? –  Robert Harvey Dec 27 '12 at 19:49
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3 Answers

No, It is not.

At least GPL, MS-PL, CC and text in your example does not permit as per license terms.

If there is a license that explicitly states that attribution to author is not required(Optional) and license copy is also not required (Optional), then you could remove the copyright.

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Open source or not, the file is copyrighted unless it specifically states that it is not (creations of the government, things on which the copyright has expired and things explicitly placed in the public domain). Copyrights are enforceable in court.

Open source actually depends on copyright for its enforcement (the ability to restrict who makes derivative works is at the heart of the GPL).

To that extent, removing a copyright notice is mentioned copyright law as a criminal offense. The copyright notice is independent of the enforceability of a license.

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Rules for public domain vary from one jurisdiction to another; I think that some countries don't recognize the concept at all. (IANAL.) –  Keith Thompson Dec 27 '12 at 20:06
    
@KeithThompson Very true - some don't, they require someone to hold the copyright. If it is published without a license into public domain, its just as if it was published as normal (with full copyright protections). warp.povusers.org/grrr/costly_open_source_licenses.html goes into this a bit. –  MichaelT Dec 27 '12 at 21:05
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No, it's not OK to remove it.

Even if you could get away with it from a legal perspective, it would be ethically wrong to do so.

As to whether it will stand in a court: I'm no lawyer, but it looks to me like it's a pretty simple license, which takes it's power from the original author's copyright interest in the work. In that way, it's similar to other licenses like the GPL, which have been found valid in courts in several countries. It's also MUCH simpler in concept and execution than (for instance), the GPL, which I suspect would make it easier to enforce. The only thing that seems at all fuzzy to this layman is the definition of 'substantial portions'.

I suppose the remaining question is whether anyone would sue you over it. That would depend almost completely on what you did with the stripped version, and whether anyone could possibly know what you'd done.

For instance, if you stripped the notices and put it into an internal company product, then only the other devs would have any chance of knowing, and they might be unlikely to recognize it, and even if they did, they might well not be inclined to alert the author.

On the other hand, if you stripped the notices and distributed the source under your own name, then you'd be more likely to get someone noticing and doing something about it.

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