A job for which I am applying has, as part of the application / interview process, a test which requests real source code. Should I include a copyright notice on this code?

I'm guessing the practice would be similar to portfolios for art folks, but for code in particular I think the opportunity to point out an interest in IP law ( and disapproval of related clauses of many employment agreements ) shouldn't be passed up.

  • 2
    If the code is yours, no reason not to. One other thing you can do is make a few subtle changes to the code that make it not function correctly and put a prominent note to that effect at the top. (Point here being that samples are to show your programming style.) Any shop smart enough to debug it probably doesn't need to steal it.
    – Blrfl
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 2:48
  • 2
    Do you want the job, or to make a point about IP law? Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 13:39
  • I figured worst case scenario, I can just say that my editor automatically inserts that stuff. For this particular assignment, I read the question as requiring 'real' code, so at least SOME copyright notice should go on it, along with things like unit tests. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 15:00
  • What kind of copyright notice are we talking about? A full-blown proprietary license, or a GPL/BSD style thing?
    – acolyte
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


When making a decision on this I would ask myself what is it I hope to achieve. If the code is property of a third party company but you are submitting it as an example of the type of work that you do then including the third party copyright is appropriate so that you can indicate that the code is not owned by you and that you do not have permission to grant licence to use it. Generally I would follow the guidelines of the third party owner of the code, in the sharing of the code and the copyright status.

If the copyright to the code is owned by you and you have the right to grant licence to use it then you have a decision to make. Most companies I have worked with require that any code submitted be done so with a licence that would prevent my making a claim against them for any contents of code submitted to them in the application process. The reason is that you could submit some very easily duplicated code, then make a claim against them. So it is in their interests to demand the rights to use any code you submit to them.

For this reason I never include my "best" stuff. If there is a need I would remove the code that does work I wish to protect and insert a comment that the code is proprietary and you are unable to grant a blanket licence. If you feel the need to protect your code then you may be best served by contacting a lawyer and getting them involved in reviewing what you plan to submit to the client.

  • ANd if you are using code that belongs to a third party like your curent or previous employer, then make sure you have the rights to use it for a code sample.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 17:16

Legally, at least in the US, you own the copyright to anything you create the moment it is created (provided you aren't creating the work under a work-for-hire arrangement). So there is no legal need for it in that sense.

However, for a sense of pride, I say go for it. It certainly wouldn't hurt anything (and if anything, maybe would help as it shows you take some ownership in your work).

  • @chad copyright is a legal construct. If we can't answer a legal question with legal information, then legal questions shouldn't be asked.
    – DA.
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 17:31
  • Actually...you DON"t own the copyright to everything you create. Especially if you create it for work or for work-related things. Heck, even using a company computer to jump on google and get some advice to fix a problem you're encountering makes the code the company's (or at least it would if the company had a half-decent legal team).
    – acolyte
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 18:13
  • @acolyte yes, very good point. Work for Hire is another legal construct. Not sure if I'm allowed to talk about it. ;)
    – DA.
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 18:14
  • also, OP is asking not for the legal ramifications of adding a copyright notice, but more about the cultural/workplace repercussions of such an act (if there are any to begin with).
    – acolyte
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 18:20
  • @chad good point. I added a reference link.
    – DA.
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 14:41

Is this code that you write for the interview (like a coding test?), or pre-existing code that they want to see?

If it's pre-existing code, (for instance, something you did on your own time), then yes, absolutely keep the notices on there.

If it's written for the interview, then no, don't. If you are writing to answer a coding test, then putting a copyright notice on the answer indicates that you are more concerned with outside affairs than the problems they are looking to hire you to solve.

  • Yes, this. In addition, if you blatantly assert your ownership over a few hours' work in pursuit of a job, it would be natural for them to wonder if you're going to be like that if they hire you. ("Well, in order to solve your problem I had to write this script, but that's mine"... um, no.) Just don't go there; it can't help and it might hurt. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 14:29

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