I am wondering...

Recently I have observed github; I saw many Java projects' codes which don't have copyright at their headers... I mean, as I may guess, in this case the only thing which can prove the code author is - it is author's github account; So my question is... is it safe to protect open source code with github account only or there is a more optimal way to do so? Please share your experience;


1 Answer 1


In principle, you don't need to put in a copyright statement to own the copyright on something you have written. There are a few exceptions, such as stuff you write as part of your employment or when you explicitly transfer your copyright, but that is the general principle that copyright law is based upon.

The point of putting in the copyright statement is mostly to make it abundantly clear to the reader who own the copyright.

Another thing is that, unless there is a licence granting others those rights, the copyright holder is the only one that is permitted to copy, distribute or modify the work. And most open-source licences require that you explicitly state who owns the copyright.

So, in the end, if you happen upon something that does not have a clear copyright statement and appropriate licence, it is best to assume you can't use it. But I would not rely on others to presume the same thing. The best way to protect your code is not to put it out in a publicly accessible place. The second best is to clearly state the copyright and licence.

  • "There are a few exceptions, such as stuff you write as part of your employment or..." it is quite interesting point concerning the 'employment'; You see what if to have programmer portfolio projects on github for example? Should I copyright them then?
    – user592704
    May 6, 2013 at 0:45
  • @user592704: Everything you write is automatically copyrighted, just by the fact that your thoughts were given tangible form. A copyright statement only makes it clear who owns the copyright and if only for that reason I would always put it in. May 6, 2013 at 7:48
  • OK but what if someone gets the code and upload it to its repository saying it is his/hers? How can I be sure I can argue that kind of situation or I can always trust my authorship for my code upload date and time or something?
    – user592704
    Jul 31, 2013 at 16:23
  • @user592704: It depends a bit on who you need to convince that it is really your code. Usually it will be good enough to locate a possible location where the copyright violator might have gotten your code and show that it is older, but in a court of law you might need stronger evidence. In any case, I have not heard of such scenarios actually happening. Jul 31, 2013 at 16:49
  • " It depends a bit on who you need to convince that it is really your code" what if that will be an employer? I mean today sometimes they demand to see source codes of ones previous works (so called portfolio) as a requirement ... what is the best way to protect source codes in that case?
    – user592704
    Aug 2, 2013 at 20:05

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