I have this project that has several license notes (all GNU GPLv3) on the top of the source files.

They are all following the "rule" that the year in the copyright notice should be the year on which the file was last modified.

I wonder if I can substitute

Copyright (C) 201X Bernardo Sulzbach


Copyright (C) Bernardo Sulzbach

on all the licenses to alleviate the maintenance burden.

  • 1
    Copyright does not last forever. If you don't state when it takes effect, no one can determine when it ends; this might leave you open to some kind of legal challenge. If this is a maintenance burden, can you find away to update the year automatically on check-in? Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 4:13
  • Thanks for commenting, James. Yes, but that itself would cost me (man-hours, as I don't believe there is already a solution to this). You make a great point, would setting the year as a "codebase year" be OK? So if a change was made this year, all notes are updated to (C) 2016. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 4:38
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    Shouldn't cost you that much unless you're using a VCS that doesn't have hooks. Git has them, and writing a hook to make the substitution would probably take fifteen minutes.
    – Blrfl
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 12:32

2 Answers 2


No, you can not leave out the year in a copyright notice. The format of a copyright notice is fairly rigidly specified and if you deviate from that, the notice might not be accepted as a valid copyright notice.

From UK Copyright Service fact sheet:

  1. What does a notice consist of?

    1. "Copyright"
      Some countries will not accept the symbol alone, they also require the word "Copyright" to appear in order to consider the notice valid. Using the word ensures that there can be no confusion.
    2. "©"
      The normally recognised symbol. Most countries across the world accept this as the correct manner of displaying copyright.
    3. Year of publication
      In case of a dispute of ownership of a work, the date plays an important part. If your work was developed and published before any potential opponents then you can usually expect to win any case which challenges your rights.

      In the case of work which is continually updated, (for example a web site), the year of publication may be shown as a period from first publication until the most recent update, (i.e. 2000-2015)

    4. Copyright owner’s name
      This may only be one person, or it may be a collective, a band, group or team for example.

      If there is one person who owns the rights to a work, then his/her name will appear on its own. If however, your work is owned by several people then you may choose to include the name of each member of the collective, or include the name of the collective itself.

This would give your copyright notice the following appearance: Copyright © 2015 Bobby Smith.

  • The link does not mention anything about "(C)". However, as there are so many license templates out there using it, "(C)" shouldn't be an issue, right? Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 14:28
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    The "(C)" most likely won't be an issue, because it is the closest you can get to the official © if you can't use unicode characters. Within the programming community, it is widely accepted as an alternative. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 14:33
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    As a general rule, you should, in the United States at least, add the phrase "All rights reserved" after the owner's name(s). AFTER THAT, you can start granting licensing permissions. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 17:44
  • @JohnR.Strohm: The "All rights reserved" is actually the default copyright license. Adding it when you want to apply a different license is not a good idea. You should add the "All rights reserved" only when that is the license you want to use. For other, well established, licenses, just follow the guidelines of the organisation that drafted/published the license. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 7:25
  • @BartvanIngenSchenau, I have never seen a commercial copyright notice on any code anywhere that did not include the phrase "All Rights Reserved". I expect that this is because there was a nasty lawsuit somewhere, that turned on the presence or absence of that phrase. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 19:55

Legal Disclaimer. I'm not an attorney. The following should not be construed as legal advice.

They are all following the "rule" that the year in the copyright notice should be the year on which the file was last modified.

A single date on the notice establishes how far back the claim is made (also), so you shouldn't substitute:

Copyright (C) 2015 Bernardo Sulzbach


Copyright (C) 2016 Bernardo Sulzbach

You should let it unchanged (typically your individual copyright will extend from 50 to 100 years beyond your death) or write

Copyright (C) 2015-2016 Bernardo Sulzbach

In the hyphenated form, the first date and the second date serve different purposes:

The last date serves to indicate the latest copyright date for any material in the file

Moreover you should update the copyright year only if you made contributions to the work during that year. So if a file hasn't been updated in a given year, there is no ground to touch the file just to update the year.

For the maintenance burden many editors have a copyright update function. E.g. with emacs you can put:

(add-hook 'before-save-hook 'copyright-update)

in the ~/.emacs init file and have copyright-update be called automatically every time a file is saved.

  • Thanks, I figured some of this out. I just hope that using 2008-2012 is not an issue if the file was not modified in a year of the range. I would set something up with [creation year]-[last modification year]. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 14:59
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    According to FSF you can use a range (‘2014-2016’) instead of listing individual years (‘2014, 2015, 2016’) if and only if: 1) every year in the range, inclusive, really is a “copyrightable” year that would be listed individually and 2) you make an explicit statement in a README file about this usage. Anyway...
    – manlio
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 15:12

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