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Re: What is the licence of Debian-specific files (Was: Intent to package "vibrant" graphical library

On Wed, 17 Feb 1999, Craig Sanders wrote:
> > There are two major reasons that it might be illegal to copy something:
> > 
> > 1) You are violating someone's copyright;
> > 2) You have signed a contract stating that you will not do it.
> > 
> > If I take something which is 'in the public domain', and give it to you,
> > saying 'this is GPL'ed', then I cannot stop you copying it.  If you
> > copy it, you certainly haven't violated my copyright - since I don't have
> > the copyright. You have potentially violated the copyright of the original
> > owner - but he has given you permission to do anything at all with it.
> you are missing the crucial point about public domain stuff:
> that's why it is called "public domain".
> the fact that there is no copyright means that you can do ANYTHING you
> want with public domain stuff, INCLUDING re-license it under any terms
> you like.

I'm not missing the point, Craig.  However, we're certainly not making
progress :-)

I do understand what you're saying.  However, as I understand it, you
cannot relicense code.  Your ability to license is founded in your
copyright, and you don't have copyright over public domain code.

> > I am fairly sure that you will also find that the phrase 'in the
> > public domain', whilst having a fairly common popular usage,
> > doesn't have any precise legal definition. I believe it is normally
> > interpreted, more or less, as 'you may copy at will'.
> it specifically means "no copyright". a work with no copyright can have
> no restrictions whatsoever on distribution.

As I said:  I don't believe there is a strict legal interpretation of this
phrase.  If there is, I think it only applies to work which is 'out of

> consider dBase. in the 80s, that was based on original public domain
> code (as it was created by the US government). however, there was
> NOTHING preventing Ashton-Tate from copyrighting their version and suing
> anyone who infringed on their rights.

1) US goverment work is never public domain.  It is "(c) US Goverment".
*however*, the goverment is constitutionally unable to uphold this
copyright, and thus has to give unrestricted permission to copy.  That
doesn't mean the code isn't the property (intellectual property, that is)
of the US government - it simply means they won't (mayn't) enforce it.

2) Ashton-Tate have copyright on their modifications.  They can prevent
you copying this, but not the underlying code, which remains the property
of the US government.


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|  Julian Bean   | jmlb2@hermes.cam.ac.uk        |  TW9 2TF *UK*       |
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