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This article discuss the question of whether a "hello world" program is protected by copyright. It comes to the conclusions that it is not (under US copyright law) because most of it is required by the implementation leaving only the phrase "hello, world" which by itself is too trivial to be copyrightable.

I believe the same reasoning would apply for my jurisdiction which is the UK.

However, some on the open source stack exchange disagree (see comment on first linked question below for example).

Is a hello world program really protected by copyright? At what point does something become non trivial so that copyright applies?

I've asked some related questions on opensource but it has been suggested that law might be more appropriate for this kind of question:

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2 Answers 2

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It is highly unlikely that any such program would be protected, insofar as there is minimal expressive creativity involved in the code – for a standard "hello world" program. For instance, the following REXX code is not creative:

say 'Hello world'

The language itself determines that the relevant statement is "say", and I did not create the text, somebody else did and I just copied it. A version that goes

outtext = 'Hello world'; say outtext

is not creative either (this approach to typing text is implicit in "programming", and the variable name is a patently obvious choice. It would be possible to write code that is very creative, but which only types "hello world". So it depends on the code.

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  • Note that this is under the presumptions of US copyright: if sweat of the brow is a viable basis for a copyright claim in the UK, then don't apply my answer to UK law.
    – user6726
    Jul 7, 2022 at 18:20
  • So /bin/true as provided under Solaris with a copyright by AT&T probably isn't protected? There actually isn't any executable code in the script, just the copyright notice.
    – doneal24
    Jul 7, 2022 at 18:42
  • "I did not create the text, somebody else did and I just copied it": that doesn't mean that it isn't subject to copyright protection, it only means that you don't own any copyright that may exist.
    – phoog
    Jul 7, 2022 at 20:15
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For a work to be copyrightable it must originate with an author, the product of their skill/labour/judgement/expenses. Not necessarily 'original' as in creative or unique.

Of course if it is 'unique' or particularly creative then its author may have an easier job of persuading a court their copyright was infringed.

A challenge with typical "Hello world" code would be proving that this

print "hello world"

is a copy of

print "hello world"

How could the complainaint persuade a court that the latter piece of code is their own work and the former a copy of it?

At what point does something become non trivial so that copyright applies?

On a case-by-case basis - there isn't a threshhold defined in law.

Ultimately, when a court determines the defendant copied unauthorised a non-trivial piece of work or the whole work from the copyright work.

Case judgments provide examples of what has and what hasn't been found infringing.

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