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Re: Copyright in public domain package

<posted & mailed>

Michael Hanke wrote:

> On Thu, Sep 07, 2006 at 11:35:54AM +0100, MJ Ray wrote:
>> Michael Hanke <michael.hanke@gmail.com>
>> > [ Please keep me CC'ed, I'm not subscribed. ]
>> [...]
>> > I talked to upstream and they replaced those statement with something
>> > like the following to make their software acceptable for Debian main:
>> > 
>> > #   The immv file was originally part of FSL - FMRIB's Software Library
>> > #   http://www.fmrib.ox.ac.uk/fsl
>> > #   immv has now been placed in the public domain.
>> > #
>> > #   Developed at FMRIB (Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance
>> > #   Imaging of the Brain), Department of Clinical Neurology, Oxford
>> > #   University, Oxford, UK
>> > 
>> > This should be unambiguous, correct?
>> Sorry, I think it's ambiguous. The UK Patent Office (www.patent.gov.uk,
>> who also handle much to do with copyright, sadly) sometimes uses 'in the
>> public domain' to mean that something has been published or offered for
>> sale to the public.
>> How has it 'been placed in the public domain'?  I am not aware of any
>> way to do that in Oxford besides copyright expiring, or the work somehow
>> not qualifying for automatic copyright protection anyway.  It may be
>> possible to disclaim all copyright interest in a work, but I'm not sure
>> how to do that.
> I'm not sure whether I understood completely what you said. I thought the
> term 'public domain' states that the authors disclaim ANY copyright of
> there work. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

In the US and most other countries, the "public domain" is unambiguous, and
means "not subject to copyright".  MJ Ray indicates that it is *not* 
unambiguous in the UK, which sucks.

There is no clear legal method under modern US law to intentionally place
something in the public domain.  The same appears to be true in the UK.

We suspect that a clear statement of intent to place something in the public
domain would probably be upheld by the courts if it ever came up.  It should
be as clear as possible, however.

(Prior to 1988, works could be placed in the public domain in the US by
deliberately publishing them without copyright statements.  This is no
longer possible, because the Berne Convention SUCKS -- that's the year the
US acceeded to it.)

In any case, the only person who can place something in the public domain
is its (former) copyright holder.  People have made very suspicious claims
in the past that various things were in the public domain; so it's important
that any statement make clear that the right person put it in the public
domain.  The right person might be the authors or their employers,
depending on whether it's a "work for hire" under English law (ick).

> I also do not understand what you mean by 'do that in Oxford'. The
> original authors of fsliolib (the relevant part of the package wrt this
> copyright issue) are part of the nifticlib upstream team. The whole
> thing is a joint effort the create a common or standard format for
> medical-imaging data. So effectively fsliolib upstream disclaims the
> copyright of their own work. If there is a better way to state this
> fact, I would be happy to forward this information to upstream.

"immv has now been placed in the public domain (no copyright) by its authors
and their employers.  If this is legally impossible, they irrevocably grant
everyone everywhere eternal permission to treat it exactly as if it was in
the public domain in every way, and not subject to copyright in any way."

I think that would be unambiguous.  There are other ways to say the same
thing.  If they have access to an actual copyright lawyer, they should use 
one, rather than using my suggested text.  (If they like they can show my 
text to the copyright lawyer.)

>> Please ask them to use a MIT/X11-like licence or similar liberal terms.
MJ, MIT/Expat is usually preferred to MIT/X11 here.  :-)  I don't remember
why; I think it's more liberal.

>> If they need specific help, I think oss-watch.ac.uk is still based in
>> Oxford.
They should use this facility if they have access to it, certainly.

> AFAIK upstream explicitely want this to be without any copyright.

See above.  :-)  Notice that this text is complicated enough that it's just
as much work as using the MIT/Expat license, probably more.

MIT/Expat is canonically located at:
(The license is everything except the copyright notices.)

If they don't like the conditions, chop them off.  This would leave:

   Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining
   a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the
   "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including
   without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish,
   distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to
   permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so.

>> > What is the appropriate way to note this combination of licenses in the
>> > package. Do I simply add this additional copyright to debian/copyright?
>> Yes, simply list all relevant permission statements.
> Thanks. I'll added the missing statement.

Upstream should really note that that one file is "not part of immv" and so 
not subject to its license/public domain notice.  Otherwise immv's 
license/public domain notice isn't quite right....

> I hope there is a way to get this package in a shape to be acceptable
> for Debian main.

Definitely.  Copyright law currently is kind of obnoxious, but Debian still
tries to follow it to the letter.  With a cooperative upstream, there
should be no trouble getting an ironclad license/public domain assignment.

Nathanael Nerode  <neroden@fastmail.fm>

Bush admitted to violating FISA and said he was proud of it.
So why isn't he in prison yet?...

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