Best existing license for closed-source code

  • 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?

    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 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.

    @TheLQ - We already have a term for that, `non-free` .. (referring to liberty, not price).

    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.

    @Tim Post: Stallman labeled such software "proprietary". Not that everybody likes to use his definitions.

    @puddingfox: I see your point, but then the more important matter is how the source code got leaked, since @TheLQ says they are developing the applications on their own and thus no one else should have access to the source code.

    @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.

    @Bernard: To investigate where a leak is, is helps to have good evidence that a leak took place, and where the code went. If Company A writes something similar, you can be suspicious, but you can't really do anything. If you can show that Company A is using your proprietary code, you have many more legal options (and hence more options that don't involve a courtroom).

    @TheLQ there is a "proprietary" tag which has the same meaning.

  • Tim Post

    Tim Post Correct answer

    10 years ago

    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.

    and if it is not a company but an indie developer, what I put here "Copyright (C) YoYoDyne Systems, Inc - All Rights Reserved"? What is that "Inc"?

    @AquariusPower: "Incorporated", like *Monsters, Inc.*

    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.

    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.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM