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Re: Some licensing questions regarding celestia

Quoting Branden Robinson (branden@debian.org):

> * To my knowledge, in the U.S, a statement from all the copyright
>   holders of a work is sufficient to place it in the public domain, if
>   they want to do so before it would otherwise pass into the public
>   domain through expiration of copyright....

Branden --

Would that it were so!  The matter has been the topic of extensive
discussion on the OSI license-discuss mailing list, and after a great
deal of discussion the issue remains unsettled, but nobody can cite any
clear indication of what the legal effect of such as declaration is:
There has been no relevant caselaw.

o  It might be ruled to constitute an irrevocable licences for gratis
   usage by anyone, for the remainder of the licence term.

o  It might be ruled to actually _place_ the work in the public domain,
   but this seems unlikely, as there is no statutory provision for doing
   so, and it seems unlikely the owner could excuse himself from the 
   duties of ownership through an act of will.

o  It might have no effect at all.

o  Or it might have some different effect entirely -- possibly various
   effects in diverse jurisdictions.

In the USA, creative works (including software) published or generated
directly by the Federal government are by law not covered by copyright,
and thus are public domain ab initio.  However, if the work was created
by a non-government contractor, it became copyrighted upon creation, and
nothing prevents the Feds from _owning_ such copyrights (e.g., as part
of the deal with the contractor).

Also, prior to 1978-01-01, it was possible to lose copyright protection
in the USA through pilot error, e.g., by publishing the work without a
valid copyright notice.  (For example, it's probable that AT&T UNIX 32V
became public domain in that fashion, as indicated by the judge's
preliminary ruling in the AT&T v. UC Regents lawsuit.  See:
http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/who/dmr/bsdi/930303.ruling.txt)  Beginning
1978, however, to bring US law in compliance with treaty, copyright has
come into existence automatically whenever you put a (covered) creative
work "in fixed form" -- and owners got a five-year grace period to fix
any broken copyright notices.  It's possible that some software became
public domain through that mechanism, but not much -- and you'd
potentially have to prove it, in the event of dispute.

Other than that, it's a near-certainty that _no_ software of conceivable
modern interest has yet reached the public domain:  Not enough years
have passed.  Thus, if/when you see some package on the Net that's
described as "public domain", beware:  That usually just means that the
person writing that descriptions is dangerously ignorant of copyright
law, and you incorporate such code into larger works at your peril.

More at:  http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/linux-info/public-domain

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                Best Regards, Rick Moen, rick@linuxmafia.com

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