October 21, 2020

Copyright Notices Begonepointless costs of ancient licenses

Scott Peterson, an open-savvy lawyer at Red Hat, recently published “How should open source projects handle copyright notices?. Upshot: mostly, they shouldn’t bother.

While these notices may appear important, their presence in source code today is largely a residue of the copyright law of the past.

And later on:

As to copyright notices [as opposed to notices of what license terms apply —KEM], it is difficult to justify investing in maintaining copyright notice details.

I agree. Scott and I are not alone in this.

The Blue Oak model license doesn’t have any copyright notice, and doesn’t require any. If you show a programmer a template with blanks to fill, they’re going to try to fill them in. And they’re going to deduce that filling them in is somehow important. It’s not.

As Scott points out, copyright notices used to be important. But that was thirty years ago, before many open source developers were born. God knows how many hours of effort the blanks in MIT and BSD license templates have wasted since. We can do better.

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