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Re: Some licensing questions regarding celestia

Quoting Don Armstrong (don@donarmstrong.com):

> I'm not surprised that there is no relevant caselaw, however, it's
> common to assume that placing (or dedicating) the work in (or to) the
> public domain is enough for the work to be in the public domain.

You can assume it.  Your assumption is most likely incorrect.

> You should be able to find caselaw involving a case where a work was
> improperly placed in the public domain (ie, the person dedicating it
> to the public isn't the copyright holder,) but as the US system is a
> law in action, you'll need to find a case where someone placed the
> work into the public domain, and then withdrew that placement and
> proceeded to sue people under it.
> That's a tall order.

That is _not_ necessary in order for the notion to be doubtful.  It
pretty much suffices that no statutory mechanism whatsoever exists to
enact that intention, and for the outcome to be both indeterminate and
mostly likely jurisdiction-dependent.

> What duties of ownership? [Well, at least post 1968.]

Sundry warranty issues.

> You always incorporate code into larger works at your peril.

Not exactly:  There is risk, and there is peril.  

When you use (e.g.) a third-party BSD-licensed work, you are relying on
the creator having sufficient title that his permission grant can be
relied upon, but that is usually a well-founded assumption.  With code
you come across that is described as "public domain", statistically, 
you will find upon deeper examination that the person making that
declaration simply isn't taking copyright issues seriously.

I conducted my own study, for some weeks in 2000, of the packages in
SourceForge.net in the "public domain" licence category.  This was
because I was curious about whether the laxity, ownership problems, and
outright failure to mention significant copyright claims was widespread
in that entire category, after noticing it among PalmOS packages so
designated that I came across while assembling my collection of all
known open-source PalmOS software (http://linuxmafia.com/palmos/).
To my dismay, I found that _most_ of that SourceForge.net category
(out of some hundreds of packages) were multi-author works with obvious
copyright encumbrances that had no matching permission statements from
some of those authors.

I brought this problem to the SourceForge.net management staff at VA
Linux Systems, Inc.  They acknowledged the problem (I presented
examples), but took no action, feeling that the amount of software in
question wasn't large enough to merit their time and trouble.

My point is that, in my experience, a claim that a package is "public
domain" has a high statistical correlation with title problems, which
people making derivative works must beware of.

> Regardless, the standard sane aproach, is to assume that a "This work
> is placed into the public domain" statement is equivalent to a
> relieving yourself of the protection availed to you by copyright law,
> or equivalent to a widely permisive irrevocable license.[1]
> 1:http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter8/8-a.html

I'm glad the uncredited author has an opinion.  Everyone should have a
few -- and festooning Web pages with them as he has done is a perfectly
fine pastime that no doubt reduces the rate of delinquency on our

But _relying_ on that would be about as perfect an example of idiocy as
I've seen recently -- though I suppose there's always room for
improvement in that area.

Cheers,             The shortest distance between two puns is a straightline.
Rick Moen

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