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From: David Abrahams (dave_at_[hidden])
Date: 2002-11-26 11:26:14

Andrew Koenig <ark_at_[hidden]> writes:

>>> Keith Gorlen,
>>> the author of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) class library,
>>> told me once that his work, being a ``US Government work'' is in the
>>> public domain and *cannot* be copyrighted or licensed. That is,
>>> *nothing* that anyone does with his work can legally prevent anyone
>>> from copying it, so there is no meaningful way of licensing it.
> Beman> If I understand correctly, what was being requested was that it
> Beman> be possible to clearly associate each file with its legal
> Beman> status. So in the case you mention, I guess they would want to
> Beman> see a notice to the effect it was a "US Government work" and
> Beman> that it was in the public domain.
> No -- what the FSF wanted was for the author to assign the copyright
> to the FSF, and Keith could not do that because once a work is in
> the public domain, it is no longer possible for the FSF or anyone
> else to copyright it.

IIUC, what Beman meant when he said "what was being requested" did not
refer to this particular case. He was referring to his own earlier
statement that:

    "Even something in the public domain should have a copyright, and a
    license that says it is in the public domain.

    The lawyers that I have talked to view a file as poison if it
    isn't covered by someone's explicit copyright and license. In
    other words, a file silent about copyright and license is seen as
    a time bomb, waiting to explode. (Of course the license doesn't
    have to be in the source code, as long as it is clear what license
    applies to the source code. IIRC, the copyright should actually
    be in the source code.)"
In other words, though a license on public-domain work may have no
legal standing, it is of practical importance to be able to associate
each file with its legal status, so a notice which says "this file is
in the public domain" is useful.

                       David Abrahams
   dave_at_[hidden] *
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