There are some recent claims by a person claiming to be the author of the Bitcoin white paper that it is copyrighted material and should be removed from websites on demand.
Let’s explore this.
Papers by themselves aren’t licensed and don’t follow the same rules as software.
However software (such as open source software) has documentation as part of it. Andreas Antonopoulos explained “The paper is MIT licensed. It was included in the sourceforge repository as part of the documentation of the project and under an MIT license. I have included it in my book under that same license. Once released under MIT it cannot be unreleased. MIT covers software and “related documentation”, which the paper most definitely falls under.”
Written works are generally broadly either copyrighted or public domain. Open source documentation is also not copyrighted if it is given away in an open source license.
When is something copyrighted?
If the author or other owner claims ownership and registers it or uses (c), date and the copyright holder’s name at publication then it’s usually considered copyrighted. In most jurisdictions works are copyright on publication. Even if copyrighted, if an author gives their work away in something like an MIT software license, the gift can’t be taken back and claimed as a copyright.
If a copyright holder allows publication of a work by other sources and does not challenge this, the holder weakens its claim. For a party to claim copyright of the Bitcoin white paper and claim that it is active and can be enforced it seems at a basic level they’d need to prove:
1. That they had a copyright
2. That the work was not now public domain or that the copyright had not been released since claimed
3. Or that it was an unauthorized upload or use of the MIT license / or that it shouldn’t have been part of the license
Attempting to claim copyright after many years of widely open publication seems extremely weak and unworkable.
At the time of release Satoshi intended the paper to serve as documentation for the open source software project. As pointed out by Andreas above, this means it’s covered by the software license. If Satoshi intended for the paper to be a copyrighted work separate from the software he or she could have noted this with a copyright notice. This is entirely inconsistent with the release of both the paper and software as well as the manner it was presented by Satoshi at issuance. Even if the two were separate, the work was widely released into the public domain with no challenge or claim of ownership for many years.
Attorney Preston Byrne noted also that a claim, even a claim of ownership of a copyright is different from proving a case, he stated on Twitter: “What the copyright registration he holds doesn’t do is (a) prove that he owns the copyright in question or (b) dispense with the requirement for him, as plaintiff in a copyright action, to prove at trial that he owns an exclusive right which is being infringed.”
What the copyright registration he holds doesn't do is (a) prove that he owns the copyright in question or (b) dispense with the requirement for him, as plaintiff in a copyright action, to prove at trial that he owns an exclusive right which is being infringed.— Preston Byrne (@prestonjbyrne) January 21, 2021