I'm creating a few closed-source applications on my own (no big company behind me) and am wondering exactly how to protect them. At the top of all the source code files I have this pretty basic copyright notice:

 * Copyright (C) 2010-2011 {name} <{email}>
 * This file is part of {project}.
 * {project} can not be copied and/or distributed without the express
 * permission of {name}

However I'm really starting to think that's not enough. Without the money to get a lawyer, I'm interested in any closed-source license that essentially says "You can use it, and that's it". Finding one has been extremely difficult as I can only find open source license comparisons or "Find a lawyer" answers.

Is there any closed-source license that I can use that says something similar to this?

  • 17
    Why include the license in source code files if by being a closed-source project means you are not distributing the source code files? How do you expect others to view this license?
    – Bernard
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 15:06
  • 37
    @Bernard Including the license in the source is a legal maneuver. In the event the source gets somehow leaked, any viewer is still aware that they should not have access to the source -- i.e. they cannot use plausible deniability as a defense.
    – jamesbtate
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 15:14
  • @TheLQ - We already have a term for that, non-free .. (referring to liberty, not price).
    – user131
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 15:15
  • 2
    Do you actually need a license? Do you want protection other than copyright law gives you? Bear in mind that, if you want a license that restricts more than copyright law, you will have to get some sort of assent to the license. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 15:17
  • 1
    @Steve We don't close questions here as duplicates of SO questions. That question only covers non-commercial applications, while this question doesn't impose the same constraint. Definitely related, though, so thanks for finding it.
    – Adam Lear
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


Something like this is adequate, depending on where you live:

/* Copyright (C) YoYoDyne Systems, Inc - All Rights Reserved
 * Unauthorized copying of this file, via any medium is strictly prohibited
 * Proprietary and confidential
 * Written by Elmer Fudd <[email protected]>, September 1943

(2016 update: The phrase "All Rights Reserved" used to be required in some nations but is now not legally needed most places. In some countries it may help preserve some of the "moral rights.")

This means you can't:

  • Copy the file
  • Print the file out, scan it and copy the image
  • Print the file out, take pictures of it and distribute the film
  • etc ...

However, take care to note that in some countries, there is no such thing as copyright. This is also completely in addition to a strong license that you ship with your product, which should go into greater detail.

These sort of 'license headers' are designed simply to alert someone who happens upon a file that they should not distribute it.

We use something very much like that in stuff that we have that needs to stay behind closed doors. For instance, it alerts someone to not post functions on Stack Overflow.

Someone who p0wns your dev server to get your code probably isn't going to pay attention to it, however. Note, again, what you're describing is NOT a license, it's a per file assertion of copyright and specifically stating that the code is proprietary.

  • There are few countries that don't have a copyright law based on the Berne Convention, and those countries don't tend to have thriving computer installations, and you can't get that much money out of them anyway. There are more countries where copyright is ignored to a large extent, and people there won't care about licenses either. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 16:09
  • 4
    @AquariusPower: "Incorporated", like Monsters, Inc.
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 1:56
  • 1
    The "license" in this answer might contradict existing licensing terms in an outside contract. This could lead to ambiguity in ownership and distribution rights. You should indicate what has precedence in the case of a conflict. Commented May 2, 2016 at 18:38
  • 15
    Remove the (C), as it doesn't mean copyright, nor is it a replacement for © nor does it have legal weight. The "Copyright" you typed is sufficient, and "(C) only means copyright in some US states, while in some places it means that you'll have to argue your name is "(C) Yoyodyne Systems, Inc." Also choose between © and the word "Copyright" as listing both can lead to nuisance arguments like "he copyrighted the copyright" which won't cause a case to fail, but will cause your lawyers to bill you more to state the obvious.
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 19:30
  • 1
    @PhaniRithvij Always remove (C). Either use "copyright" or ©. If you type out the word "copyright" then you don't need © (that's like saying "copyright copyright"). (C) doesn't mean anything legally, outside of a few USA states (it is not even recognized as a symbol on the national USA level, and it is not recognized internationally).
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 15:25

As per the related question on SO, this Creative Commons license looks relevant to you:


[Note I originally mentioned the SO question as a comment above, but I'm adding as an answer to give it a bit more visibility, as it pretty much does answer your question]

  • 22
    I've heard from other people and Creative Commons own FAQ that it shouldn't be used for software. Which sucks because its actually a really nice license
    – TheLQ
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 20:46
  • 1
    How annoying, I was not aware of that.
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 8:04
  • 4
    The reason for not using CC licenses for software is that (1) they aren't generally compatible with the GPL, which makes using CC-licensed free software a little tricky and (2) they don't require sharing of source code on distribution, which is especially problematic for "share-alike" licenses . In this case, however, neither problem would be an actual issue, as neither of those is desired.
    – Jules
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 20:32
  • 9
    The Creative Commons licenses permit at least sharing of licensed material, which is not what you want with proprietary software. Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 9:52
  • @TheLQ The only problem of the CC is that it doesn't distinguish between source code and compiled code. There is nothing wrong with applying CC to software but then you need to specify if it applies to the source code, to the compiled code, or to both. And if not to both, which license does apply to the other one? Also concepts like "linking against" is unknown to music, images or videos, so CC will not contain any rules regarding this (compare GPL vs LGPL).
    – Mecki
    Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 18:52

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