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Re: NASA Open Source Agreement

Paul Wise <pabs@debian.org> wrote:
> Firstly, it would be much better if they used an existing,
> well-understood free license rather than reinventing the legal
> wheel.

Indeed.  I believe the French government standardized on CECILL, which
can be trivially converted to GPL.

> Secondly, I was under the impression that all US Government works are
> supposed to be public domain, under what circumstances is this license
> used?

The US Government often acquires copyrighted code from contractors.
There is actually some verbiage in this license about that (Section

As for the license, the only troublesome section I found is the one
mentioned (3G)

  G.  Each Contributor represents that that its Modification is
  believed to be Contributorʼs original creation and does not violate
  any existing agreements, regulations, statutes or rules, and further
  that Contributor has sufficient rights to grant the rights conveyed
  by this Agreement.

There is an interesting interaction with a different section 3I

  I.  A Recipient may create a Larger Work by combining Subject
  Software with separate software not governed by the terms of this
  agreement and distribute the Larger Work as a single product. In
  such case, the Recipient must make sure Subject Software, or
  portions thereof, included in the Larger Work is subject to this

So if you combine things together, then it does not have to be an
original creation.  It seems that the only time that 3G comes into
play is if you modify existing code.  So if your friend makes a
modification, you can not pass off that modification as your own.
Essentially, copyright notices have to be correct.  However, it is
awfully confusing, and I am not certain that my analysis would be
compelling in court.

I worry a bit more about the words

  does not violate any existing agreements, regulations, statutes or

which means that you can not do anything against the law.  So
dissidents in Cuba could not modify NOSA code to get around the
censorship.  I would think that the US Government would not want to
give Cuba more tools for oppression.  As for Debian, I do not remember
what decision the Debian FTP masters made about these types of

In any case, it would be a million times better for NASA to reuse an
existing license.

Walter Landry

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