In the United States, copyright law gives creators certain exclusive rights over their works. These rights include, for example, the exclusive ability to copy, disseminate, and sell their creation. Copyright protects all sorts of creators, from poets and sculptors to coders and software developers. Many content creators will formally register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you wish to scare off potential infringers of your software, what's the best thing to do?
To tell the world that you have exclusive rights over your creation, it is a smart idea to include a copyright notice on your work. This is particularly important for software, where people may feel that there is no problem with "stealing" something as amorphous as code.
The purpose of a copyright notice is to make clear to users that the work is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the copyright owner's permission. It does not cost anything to place this type of statement near the copyright notice, and it may help deter copyright infringement. But remember, such statements do not take the place of a valid copyright notice.
What does such a notice actually look like? Here is a simple warning statement that could be used near a copyright notice contained in software itself, both on packaging labels and on the computer screen when the program is activated (for example, it could be placed inside an "About" or credit box or near the program's title):
This software is copyrighted. The software may not be copied, reproduced, translated, or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form without the prior written consent of [Name of copyright owner] except that you may make one copy of the program disks solely for back-up purposes.
Here is an example of the type of warning statements that are commonly used in software manuals:
This manual, and the software described in this manual, are copyrighted. No part of this manual or the described software may be copied, reproduced, translated, or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form without the prior written consent of [Name of copyright owner], except that you may make one copy of the program disks solely for back-up purposes.
A growing number of software publishers are departing from negative sounding statements like those above. Rather, they employ friendly language that is positive and inviting. The reasoning behind this approach is that appealing to end-users' sense of fair play will get better results than attempting to scare them. Here's an example of such language:
We have worked very hard to create a quality product and wish to realize the fair fruits of our labor. We therefore insist that you honor our copyright. However we want to encourage the use of our product in all possible circumstances and will work very hard to meet your needs if you will call and ask us for permission.
In the end, no statement or notice can completely ward off infringement. While important, these sorts of statements are primarily warning devices, much like seeing a "©" on a piece of writing. It reminds those who might seek to steal your code that you are cognizant of your legal rights, and are likely to enforce them.