[linux-elitists] California Copyleft Research Initiative of 2001

Seth David Schoen schoen@loyalty.org
Sun Jul 1 18:42:57 PDT 2001

Rick Moen writes:

> Quibble:  That's not what "public domain" means.  Public domain (in the
> USA) refers to creative works whose copyright has expired, or which by
> law were never copyrightable (such as some but not all works
> commissioned by federal funding, but not works commissioned by states or
> their subdivisions).

Other examples are creative works which are not "copyrightable subject
matter".  _Feist v. Rural Telephone Service Co._ is a favorite source
of such works.

(There are Linux kernel drivers which have copyright owned by the
National Security Agency, not because they were works of the NSA but
because they were works of Donald Becker, who, as a contractor,
assigned copyright to the Director of the National Security Agency.)

One other possibility that comes to mind:

Maybe works created by people who aren't residents of a Berne or WIPO
country and weren't in such a country when the works were composed.

>  Given USA copyright-expiration terms, that means 
> approximately zero public domain software has so far come into
> existence.

There has been actual government-written software, which is clearly
public domain.  I think the GRASS GIS package was an example of that.
I remember seeing some NTP software written by NIST, and some software
written by the US Naval Observatory which also dealt with timekeeping.

Some lawyers believe that you can also deliberately abandon copyrights.
You and I have both been present for arguments about whether this is
so. :-)

(The Copyright Act doesn't provide for this, but there's a popular
theory that it can be done, and some actual intellectual property
lawyers believe this theory, although I haven't managed to corner one
for a case citation that suggests that courts believed it.)

> The wording of copyright law does not support the notion of destroying a
> copyright by act of will (and certainly not via a licence statement), so
> a copyright-owner's licence purporting to place his work "in the public
> domain" is best viewed as an irrevocable grant of blanket public access
> to the copy so designated.

I want to know whether those lawyers who believe in abandoning
copyright believe in that view (both "is that what it means?" and "is
it actually irrevocable?").  Other lawyers have thought that it was
simply an error to claim to have put something in the public domain,
unless you were the Federal government.

Seth David Schoen <schoen@loyalty.org>  | And do not say, I will study when I
Temp.  http://www.loyalty.org/~schoen/  | have leisure; for perhaps you will
down:  http://www.loyalty.org/   (CAF)  | not have leisure.  -- Pirke Avot 2:5

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