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Date: Fri, 13 Jan 2023 21:09:19 +0100
From: Markus Wichmann <>
Subject: Re: Copyright years

On Fri, Jan 13, 2023 at 02:27:35PM +0300, wrote:
> On Fri, Jan 13, 2023 at 06:39:15AM +0100, Markus Wichmann wrote:
> > To my knowledge, the copyright notices are entirely unnecessary.
> As far as I understand, this is only true in the sense "even if there's no
> copyright notice, you can legally achieve all the same as if the notice was
> there".  But this is not the only sense possible.

OK, yes, I should have said they are legally unnecessary. I fail to see
any technical or other necessity for them as well, so that's why I said
they are unnecessary.

> > Therefore the copyright notice serves little purpose beyond naming the
> > author, but you have a separate complete list of authors. So as far as
> > I'm concerned, you may as well remove it entirely.
> There's one little point: the author and the copyright holder are not
> necessarily the same person/entity.

As I said, the author is copyright owner until they assign it elsewhere.
So of course they can assign it elsewhere. This is indeed how many
artists earn their living.

>  In case of musl, it is exactly so,
> but it isn't always the case.  Often the copyright belongs to the company
> for which the authors work, and, to get the things right, almost all the
> code of the official GNU/FSF projects belongs to FSF, it's their policy
> not to accept any contributions unless the contributor signs the copyright
> transfer form (well... it's not that I like it, but it's the reality).

Yes. The authors are the copyright owner at inception, then assign it to
the FSF. And yes, there is a work-for-hire caveat in there. Obviously,
when I'm summarizing entire legal libraries in the space of an e-mail,
I'm simplifying somewhat.

This copyright assignment also gets rid of the co-authorship problem I
mentioned. As it is with musl right now, de jure, Rich cannot make any
decisions about the copyright except to leave everything as it is. He
cannot, for example, switch to a new license of his own accord. Doing so
would require the consent of all co-authors, and the list is already
pretty long.

De facto, I don't think anyone would have a problem with that, but in a
list of people that long, you can never know.

> So the copyright notice serves the purpose of informing the public that,
> yes, the people who wrote the thing (the authors) are the copyright holders
> as well.  Removing the copyright notice will not perhaps change the legal
> status of the code in any way, but it may lead to confusion for people
> concerned about legal issues.

Not sufficient. If the copyright is reassigned, the copyright notice
remains the same. In practice, finding out the copyright owner of
anything is a complicated matter requiring lots and lots of research,
and the copyright notices barely help with that.

Well, they do help if nothing else exists, but in the case of most open
source software, there still is a list of authors somewhere in the
distribution (in case of musl it's in the COPYRIGHT file) and the git
repository gives more detailed info about the publication dates than a
copyright notice ever could.

> BTW,
> > The US has copyright registration, but it is not necessary to register a
> > work to gain copyright. Rather, registration is a prerequisite for a
> > lawsuit for copyright infringement. And in such a lawsuit, the plaintiff
> > gets statutory damages only if the infringement occurred after
> > registration.
> are you sure with this?

Pretty. I regularly watch Lawful Masses with Leonard French, and the
topic comes up quite frequently. Lack of copyright registration is such
an absolute bar against a suit, it is not even sufficient to get the
work registered after filing, but before the first conference. You must
at least get the ball rolling on the registration before you can file a
lawsuit for copyright infringement.

There was for example the case of Aaron Carter ripping off a German
artist on Twitter ("I'm paying you in exposure!"). Now, Carter can't be
successfully sued in Germany (good luck getting US officials to enforce
a German court order against a US citizen), and can't be sued in the US
because the work wasn't registered in the US. The guy went and
registered the work, but the infringement had occurred already, and so
he was entitled to only actual damages. Unfortunately, he does not
normally license his works, and so could not put a Dollar amount on the
damage caused by this, and so nothing bad will happen to Carter.

> It contradicts with my understanding.  E.g. FSF
> pays a lot of attention to their licenses but I have never heard they
> recommend anyone to register their copyrights.

I don't know about their registrations, I guess they handle that
themselves. I looked up the complaint in FSF v. Cisco and there, they
state that they have registered all of the works at issue in that case.
I guess they want you to assign copyright to them so they can register

> Copyright registration
> exists in many countries but it only makes it easier to prove for the court
> that the copyright is in effect; but there are always other ways to prove
> it.  For example, for any officially published book the book itself is a
> perfect proof.

The "only" there is false, as the registration has at least the
abovementioned effects in the US. The registration also proves that a
work existed at a given time, which may be helpful in proving copyright

> I'm not a lawyer however and definitely not a US lawyer, so
> I may be wrong.

Same boat here. However, on this list, nobody has any way of verifying
credentials, anyway, so even if I were a lawyer, it would not help the
discussion along. I'm just relaying my understanding of the situation.


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