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Re: license for Federal Information Processing Standards

On Wed, Feb 25, 2004 at 02:58:29AM +0000, Brian M. Carlson wrote:
> On Tue, Feb 24, 2004 at 04:12:28PM -0500, Hubert Chan wrote:
> > As mentioned in my previous mail, I am creating a package for
> > hashcash.  The source for the package includes a document,
> > fip180-1.txt, which is a copy of the Federal Information Processing
> > Standards Publication 180-1 (the definition for SHA-1).  I am unable to
> > determine whether or not FIPS documents are free, and was wondering if
> > anyone had any experience with that.
> > 
> > The FIPS home page is: http://www.itl.nist.gov/fipspubs/
> > 
> > Again, please cc me as I am not subscribed.
> All works of the United States Government (of which FIPS 180-1 is one)
> are ineligible for copyright and are explicitly public domain.

Are you positive FIPS is the works of the United States Government.  
Title 17 specifically says the US Government may own copyrights:

"Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of
the United States Government, but the United States Government is not
precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by
assignment, bequest, or otherwise" - Title 17 § 105 USC.

So the question is, was FIPS actually written by US Government employees
or by contractors?  If the latter the work can be copyrighted by the US
Government.  If the former it is considered public domain in the US.

However, as others have pointed out the Berne Convention would recognize
the copyright in other countries.  However, I do not believe the US 
Government would be likely to try and enforce such a copyright in any 
other jurisdiction.

However, that said.  The US Government is aware of this situation as 
evidenced by the NASA license.  They've cleary stipulated they don't 
claim a copyright on works done by government employees in the United 
States, but still provide a license, which would apply to anyone in a 
country that would recognize the copyright.

I'd guess only NIST could answer the question of if there is a copyright
on the work.  Ask them and see if they would be willing to write a 
statement regarding that and publish it on their website.

If they were to proclaim that they considered the works to be in the
public domain, it'd be difficult for them to claim otherwise later and
create problems.

Ben Reser <ben@reser.org>

"Conscience is the inner voice which warns us somebody may be looking."
- H.L. Mencken

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