I'm thinking about open sourcing a project of mine. I'd accept contributions under a CLA that grants me a copyright license (I'll explain what I mean at the end of this question). — Now, if someone submits a contribution, is it then okay that I write Copyright (c) 2013 My-Name at the top of each file? And mention any contributors in a separate document only, and refer people to the Git commit log and to GitHub statistics if they want details on individual contributors?

I think this should be fine with Copyright (c) My-Name, since I've been granted a copyright license?

If it's not okay, then I suppose the copyright-info-preamble of each source code file would have to include the name of all contributors to that file? Which doesn't seem practical (if there are very many contributors).

Here I'll try to explain what I mean with a "a CLA that grants me a copyright license". This is an edited excerpt from a CLA by Google:

.2. [...] You [that is, the contributor] hereby grant to [My-Name, that is, me] and to recipients of software distributed by [My-Name] a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable copyright license to reproduce, prepare derivative works of, publicly display, publicly perform, sublicense, and distribute Your Contributions and such derivative works.

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    I am not a lawyer, but that only grants you license and the license is non-exclusive. So the original author should be named.
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 8:32

1 Answer 1


No, you may not.

"Copyright (C) (year) (name): All Rights Reserved" is a copyright notice. A copyright notice states unequivocally that YOU own the work in question, and people desiring to use the work must deal with you. Note that the phrasing is High Magic: it must be phrased precisely this way.

Google's Contributor License Agreement (CLA) means that the person who owns the work in question has granted Google a license to use it, in accordance with the terms of the license. It does not transfer ownership of the work. The owner retains his rights as owner, unless he specifically gives them up (translation: SELLS them, in most cases). This specifically includes the right to license the work to other people, regardless of how Google might feel about those other people.

Affixing a copyright notice to a work for which you have been assigned a license, but have not actually acquired ownership, is misrepresentation.

  • True, although there are lots of Free/Open Source Software projects that insist on transfer of copyright for free. That includes the FSF itself, for GCC and other major programs. Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 11:24
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    Copyright notices are not "High Magic"; in fact they're not even required anymore. See Berne Convention, WIPO Copyright Treaty and WTO TRIPS. However, if you do use them, you indeed should use them correctly.
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 13:07
  • @MSalters, there is a world of difference between what is in theory required by those conventions and what is in fact necessary if you plan to pursue a copyright infringement action, in US courts at least. Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 0:21
  • What about writing Copyright (c) Original-Author's-Name and contributors? (That is, including "and contributors".) At least some files in WordPress does this, e.g. this and fairly many actually, if you google for copyright * "and contributors"
    – KajMagnus
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 7:24
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    @JohnR.Strohm: You might be confusing it with patents, where it is reasonable for two people to come up with the same idea. In these cases, a fraudulent registration (claiming ownership, regardless of date stamp) is not evidence. 17 USC 411.
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 22:10

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