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From "Jim Barnett" <j...@bea.com>
Subject RE: Public Domain Software
Date Tue, 11 Jan 2005 21:52:41 GMT
I agree that the public domain statement by MathWorks does not clearly
identify which rights (copyright, patent, trade secret, etc.) the
authors intend to surrender to the public domain.  The question of how
to properly dedicate rights in software to the public domain is a good

With respect to copyright, the copyright act does not squarely answer
the "how to" question.  In the old days, the act stated that if you
didn't apply a copyright notice to a work that was distributed, the
rights in that work passed to the public domain.  Obviously that's no
longer the case since the copyright in a work arises upon creation
irrespective of notice.  Public domain remains the status that awaits
works in which the copyright expires (William Shakespeare's plays for

Copyright protection is unavailable for works created by the US
government (See Section 105 of the copyright act).  It is fairly common
for federal governmental agencies and to offer software under such
"public domain" type disclaimers.  The USGS, for example, has lots of
"public domain" software linked on its website.

It looks like MathWorks worked in conjunction with a US governmental
entity (NIST) to create the work in question.  Works solely owned by
NIST would presumably be public domain from a copyright perspective
(i.e., totally unprotected by copyright) under Section 105.  Any idea
whether there was some kind of work-for-hire or joint ownership
agreement in place between NIST and MathWorks?

Another possibility is the Computer Software Rental Amendments Act which
created a register at the Library of Congress for public domain computer
programs.  Unfortunately the act is thin on the specifics as to how an
author gets a program he or she has created into the public domain via
the registration mechanism.  Still it might improve things a bit if
MathWorks registered the program in question as a "public domain"
program with the Library.     

I'm not touching the patent question ;-)


-----Original Message-----
From: Brian Behlendorf [mailto:brian@collab.net] 
Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 12:46 PM
To: Phil Steitz
Cc: legal-discuss@apache.org
Subject: Re: Public Domain Software

Phew, this is a hard one, since (AIUI) it's actually very difficult to 
abandon one's IP rights and put it in something called "the public 
domain".  A conservative read of the below is that the only thing the 
notice does is act as a disclaimer; it doesn't expressly allow one to 
modify or redistribute, rights that would need to be granted in order
the work to be incorporated into an ASF-licensed work.  On the other
doesn't the word "public domain" imply that all rights associated with 
copyright have been granted?  Anyone know the case law around this?

If there's any way to contact MathWords or the people at math.nist.gov
ask them to put an MIT or BSD license on the code (which should
exactly what they intend) that would be a much more solid approach.  As
sits today, the question is probably "are we satisfied that neither NIST

nor MathWorks would ever sue us or our licensees for copyright
- a value judgement I'd guess the board would need to make, based on 
feedback here.


On Mon, 10 Jan 2005, Phil Steitz wrote:
> The Jakarta Commons Math project would like to incorporate some code
from the 
> JAMA matrix package <http://math.nist.gov/javanumerics/jama>. The web
> includes the following copyright statement:
> ------------------------------------------------------
> Copyright Notice  This software is a cooperative product of The
MathWorks and 
> the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which has
> released to the public domain. Neither The MathWorks nor NIST assumes
> responsibility whatsoever for its use by other parties, and makes no 
> guarantees, expressed or implied, about its quality, reliability, or
> other characteristic.
> ---------------------------------------------------
> The sources include no copyright notices or @author tags. Is there any
> that we cannot incorporate code from these sources into Commons Math?
> Thanks!
> Phil
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