I am aware of some of the problems of the concept of "releasing a work to the public domain" (as mentioned here and here; I haven't listened to this specific discussion yet). IANAL, but the main problems seem to be as follows:

  1. Releasing to the public domain doesn't exist in many jurisdictions; rather, a work becomes public domain after copyright expires.
  2. Some moral rights are inalienable due to (certain ratifications of) article 6bis of the Berne Convention.

However, aren't you still allowed to publish a work anonymously? If you anonymously publish a work, in such a way that authorship can't be proven or even distinguished, wouldn't that effectively "unlicense" your code? I would think so: since then any claim of authorship can't be validated, the rights implied by authorship can't be enforced, not even by the original author.

If so, I'd really like to know which permissive license (ISC/MIT/BSD-style) would be fit for such publications. (Especially when they've managed to get rid of the lengthy THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED IN "SCREAMING CAPS"-style liability waiver.) If no such license exists yet, how would one modify an existing license to be suitable for an anonymous publication?

  • 2
    Guessing, which is why this is a comment, not an answer: I suspect that if you release under CC0 and/or WTFPL using a pseudonym, that everything will be fine. For reference, the webcomic Jesus & Mo is released under CC BY-SA using a pseudonym.
    – TRiG
    Feb 6, 2013 at 16:38
  • @TRiG: I wasn't aware of the CC0 license yet. Although the CC licenses are much too wordy for my taste, it's certainly an interesting candidate.
    – Rhymoid
    Feb 6, 2013 at 16:44
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    Publishing music anonymously has pretty weird effects in Germany. People playing it need to pay some stupid organization, since they can't prove that the music wasn't created by a member of that organization. Feb 6, 2013 at 18:22

2 Answers 2


I would have a read of FSF's thoughts on categories of software. To give credit, the link is also included in the SO discussion you linked to.

Western world use of the term "public domain" correlates with what FSF terms noncopylefted free software. In this case, free means no copyright associated to it as the author has disclaimed their copyright. The noncopylefted aspect means there aren't any distribution restrictions. So the software is truly Free as well as "free as in beer". Editorial aside, copyleft software isn't truly Free since it has distribution restrictions.

Releasing the software anonymously may actually backfire for what you're intending to do. Precisely because we don't know who wrote the anonymous software, we cannot ascertain that they have disclaimed their claim to copyright. Just because it is "anonymous" doesn't mean that a future user would be protected from nuisance claims of "that's really my code that I was releasing under the pseudonym of 'anonymous'" And yes, there's more than a few folk going around by the handle of anonymous.

Instead of following an anonymous route, I think you would be better off by saying I am Tinctorius and I wrote this code. This code is free to use however you wish and I explicitly disclaim my copyright to this code.

  • But the burden of proof is with the claimants, right? What if I made it impossible for anyone to make a probable claim to authorship? That would of course be more than half of the work, but I think enforcing that property can be partially automated (don't publish it if natural language analysis shows that the documentation is distinguishable from a large English language corpus; do something similar for code).
    – Rhymoid
    Feb 6, 2013 at 18:03
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    To a degree, the burden of proof is with the claimant, yes. However, the user of the code must demonstrate a degree of due diligence in how they acquire the code. They must demonstrate reason to believe the code was legitimately free. As an extreme case, if I release my employer's source code anonymously and claim that it's noncopyleft and free, someone else still can't legally use the code as their own even though I anonymously claimed to release it. The more interesting the code, the more anonymity compounds the problem of others using it.
    – user53019
    Feb 6, 2013 at 18:13
  • That's an interesting point, but putting something that looks like a real name on top of your code isn't real proof of accountability (in case of stolen code). If there's anything that's easy to do these days, then it's creating a new identity. If you want it to look legit, you could even fabricate a life using social media. When I look at an AUTHORS file of any interesting project, I've never heard of most of them. How am I supposed to know to which natural person to turn if someone sues me for intellectual property theft, if those names might as well be fake?
    – Rhymoid
    Feb 6, 2013 at 22:09
  • @Tinctorius - those are valid points but are digressing from the original topic of your question. As thin as it may be, there is a difference between publishing as John.Q.Smith and publishing anonymously.
    – user53019
    Feb 6, 2013 at 22:13

This is an old question, but for anyone still curious, federal software development team 18F uses the CC0 1.0 license to waive all rights to the software they create. You can see a copy of their standard license template on GitHub. It contains language such as this:

The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.

You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

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