[legal-discuss] Copyright statements in source

Richard Fontana rfontana at redhat.com
Tue Jan 21 19:12:46 UTC 2014

On Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 12:31:02PM -0500, Rich Bowen wrote:
> Anyways, it has been my experience in Open Source communities that having a
> copyright statement at the top of a source file can be very off-putting to
> people who want to contribute to that file, due to the perception that it is
> "owned" by someone in particular.

Out of interest I just looked at some of the source code for
Ceilometer. In what I sampled, what struck me as unusual was that each
file I saw listed one copyright holder and one author (an employee of
the company indicated as copyright holder -- in certain cases this was
done through a kind of nonstandard copyright notice [1]), followed by
the boilerplate Apache License 2.0 license notice. I saw no exceptions
to this - no file with two or more copyright notices, no file with
more than one author noted -- bearing in mind that my sample was
small. I assume this isn't in any sense reflective of how Ceilometer
actually operates (i.e., it's not the case that one developer creates
a file and thereafter no patch from anyone else will be accepted for
that file, which would be rather bizarre for an open source project,
or any software development project with more than one human

Of course it's very common in large-scale open source projects for
source files to give an incomplete or inaccurate record of the
copyright and authorship provenance of particular source files, where
legal notices appear in files at all, and this tendency has probably
only increased over the years/decades (the earliest open source
projects did not use version control systems) and is probably

Nevertheless, what I saw in Ceilometer supports your complaint, again
assuming my sample was representative, as I could see how a newcomer
to the project, especially a newcomer who had experience in other
large-ish projects, could get the vague impression that individual
source files were somehow 'owned' (in a broader-than-legal sense) by
particular individual developers.

Not sure what to suggest beyond whatever I said in the thread several
months ago. Different open source projects have adopted wildly
different approaches to this issue, and with certain exceptions it's
hard to say that any one of the more common ones are more legally
correct than the others. Maybe you could propose a specific suggestion
for how OpenStack might consistently deal with this in a way that
avoids the problem you believe exists?

- RF

[1] Of the form "Copyright Joe Developer for CompanyName, Inc." 

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