Re: copyright notice, and what else?

J Lovejoy

HI Oliver, Brad

comments below:

On Jan 7, 2016, at 12:53 PM, Brad Edmondson <brad.edmondson@...> wrote:

Thanks Oliver,

You're right in the US too: no copyright notice is required here either (or in any of the countries that have signed on to the Berne Convention or TRIPS Agreement). Authors/creators/developers can publish their works without any copyright notice at all; they're still protected and the copyright is still owned by the creator (or his asignee).

Good reminder on what the law actually is.  I always find it kind of funny that, while this is the legal reality, reproducing the copyright notice is deemed important enough to be a requirement of many open source licenses.  I chalk this up to the importance of knowing how the copyright holder is (regardless of form of the notice, really) for the purposes of what is really desired = attribution and some way to trace who/where the code came from.

I think the question is whether the second line is part of the copyright notice, or is just a credit line to the original author (who has presumably assigned his copyright to FSF in this case). Jilayne, is that how you and Sam read the issue?

I had this same thought re: FSF.  Otherwise, I’d think, ‘well if Gary is also a copyright holder, why wouldn’t he have simply added his name to the copyright notice rather than bothering with a second line and different “intro” - e.g., “Written by:”'

I have seen other examples along these lines where it looked like someone sort of added their name under a copyright notice and it’s not really clear what is going on, but you sort of guess that they are probably adding their name to indicate they added something to the code. 

For my part, I think it's a claim of authorship and not strictly part of the copyright notice, but I would also include any authorship credit found alongside the copyright notice whenever I was required (by the license or by my own best practices) to preserve the copyright notice.

That was pretty much where Sam and I came to, too, but we were curious as to whether others saw it the same way.  :)

So, then the question remains… should the copyright notice fields in the SPDX specification be worded more “loosely” to allow for this reality? And what impact might that have, both on the spec and in practice?


On Thu, Jan 7, 2016 at 11:15 AM, Fendt, Oliver <oliver.fendt@...> wrote:

Hi Jilayne,


my comments are inline.




Von: spdx-legal-bounces@... [mailto:spdx-legal-bounces@...] Im Auftrag von J Lovejoy
Gesendet: Mittwoch, 6. Januar 2016 19:24
An: SPDX-legal
Betreff: copyright notice, and what else?


Hi All,


Sam and I were discussing what to include (in the context of an SPDX document or generally for compliance with OSS used in a product) in terms of copyright notices and other “related” text one may find with a copyright notice.  For example, if you came across the following, would you provide the second line?


       # Copyright (C) 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

       # Written by Gary V. Vaughan, 2004\n",


In terms of the SPDX specification, the relevant parts of two sections on copyright notice (package and file sections) state:


                Identify the copyright holders of the package, as well as any dates present. This will be a free form text field extracted from 

                package information files. The options to populate               this field are limited to:

                               (i) any text related to a copyright notice, even if not complete; 



If we take that literally, I’d say only the actual copyright holders is required (the first line), but one could interpret “any text related to a copyright notice” to include the second line.


[Oliver] Why do you think that only the first line is required? Mr Vaughan can also hold copyright on this piece of software or do you know that he does not hold any copyright on the software? In Germany we do not have any “required legal” format to indicate copyright ownership. Due to this the statement  “# Written by Gary V. Vaughan, 2004\n" can be a valid indication of copyright ownership (at least in Germany).


If we are talking about license compliance, then we'd defer to the license. Although even then, we may be take either a thorough or minimal stance.  What I mean is that if the license requires reproducing the copyright notice, then we end up with the same question as above; the second line arguably isn’t part of the copyright notice (strict interpretation), but one may still decide to include it.  In any case, I don’t think including or not including the second line would hurt or help either way. 


[Oliver] see above. Of course others may have a different opinion.


If the license does not require the copyright notice explicitly for a binary redistribution (not all do), it still may not change the question.  I’d argue that good practice would be to collect and provide the copyright notice anyway, in which case, we are back to whether or not to also include the second line.  


I’d be curious to hear:

1) what other people think and do in practice


[Oliver] I would also “print” the second line, if I have found it.




2) consider whether we want to clarify the wording in the specification in any way to be explicitly strict as to what should be included in that field or intentionally leave it to be interpreted with some discretion (for examples such as this).


[Oliver] If you restrict the “scope” to statements with “ Copyright (C)” or “©” or similar things, you will be to restrictive and thus the standard will not be useable. In Germany you even can express our ownership like “Die Rechte an der Software gehören Oliver Fendt”, you see the “problem”?













Spdx-legal mailing list

Brad Edmondson
Vanderbilt Law School '14


Join to automatically receive all group messages.