As soon as you write the code down for a software program, it is automatically protected by a copyright. When the code is protected by a copyright, others cannot copy the code or modify the code without your permission.
Open source is simply a license to use and modify the software under the terms of the open source software agreement, such as a General Public License (GPL). The code is still protected by copyright, but you have a license to use it provided you follow the terms of the agreement. If your desire is to freely share your software with the world so that others can use it and build on it, then open source is the way to go. If you want to protect your software program then you may consider copyrighting the code and patenting the overall software program. With regards to copyrights, here are a few reasons to copyright your code:
If your code may be the only way or the best way to do something for a program (it is an essential part of what makes a product, an application, or an experiment, work), your code is a creative work that belongs to you and you can control who can use the code and who cannot. If you want to maintain such control and/or profit from your hard work, a copyright on the code may provide you control and ownership rights.
Putting others on Notice
Copyright is automatical as soon as a coder writes it down (on paper or digitally). A copyright does not stop others from creating the same work independent of you. For example, the code that you just wrote could also be created by another programmer independent of you and in a similar circumstance. Copyrights versus Open Source for software A software copyright only stops another programmer from copying your code. However, if you register a copyright with the U.S. copyright office, then the world is on notice that the code is yours. That programmer who independently wrote the same code is not off the hook and your ability to enforce it is stronger.
In addition to making it easier to prove infringement of your copyright, registration also makes it easier to recover damages from infringers, such as statutory damages which can be as high as $150,000 per infringement. Note, as you learn more about how to register a copyright for your code, be sure that the protection that registration gives is worth making your source code public as copyrights are publicly available.
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