How To Copyright Your Code

We all know copyright law in regards to writing and music. But how does it to apply to us web developers and our code? In this article, I'll discuss open and closed source software and how you can choose a license to protect your work.

Copyright is a way to protect any original work that you have created legally. Copyright protection applies to ideas that are in a tangible form like music, drama, literature, art and even computer software. By default, if you create something, you own the copyright, regardless of if you legally register a copyright or have a license for the work.

As a web developer, if you write original code, you own the copyright—the rights for the work to be copied. However, if you’re not a freelancer and you work for a company, that code is likely owned by your employer.

Most web developers that work on smaller scale “side” projects and even many tech companies have embraced something called open source software, to reach more users and encourage collaboration and contribution from the public in the name of progress. In contrast, closed source software is also used by many software companies that have likely perfected their product and would like to make some money from it.

Closed Source Vs. Open Source

Closed source and Open source software are distributed under two different licensing agreements. Closed Source software (a.k.a. Proprietary software), is distributed under a license that prohibits sharing the source code with the public. With closed source software, users are not actually buying the software, but simply purchasing a license for the right to use it. Microsoft Office is a popular example of closed source software.

Open source software is distributed under a license that allows for the source code to be available to the public. Users are allowed to use, modify and remix the source code, usually free of charge. Open source software is usually lenient on any rules of use or restrictions. Regardless, many web developers still often request for small things, like giving credit, which is usually included in an open source license.

Open Source License

As a web developer, there are various licenses that you can use to create an open source license for your code. For the open source code available on XO PIXEL, I’ve chosen to write my own license on my Terms of Use page. This method is very common on many web development blogs.

Github has also made it really easy for web developers to license their open source code. They’ve created a website called “Choose an open source license” where you can easily choose from various open source licenses.  The three main license that you can choose from is an MIT License, Apache License, GNU License.

MIT License

The MIT license effectively puts the software in public domain and is the most open of all. This license allows users to do pretty much anything to your code. Just be sure to give the owner some credit.

Apache License

The Apache license is quite permissive and is similar to the MIT  license. The only restrictions of this license is that changes to the source code must be documented. Also, it doesn’t grant trademarks rights and doesn’t provide any warranty.

GNU GPL License

The GNU General Public License is a strong license and details the most conditions than the licenses above. The conditions are that the source code must always be made available (even remixed versions), changes to the code must be documented, and the same open source license must be used for all modifications.

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