Subject: Re: Please add "Public Domain" to "license" list
From: David Johnson <>
Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2003 11:36:20 -0800

On Sunday 16 March 2003 06:12 am, David A. Wheeler wrote:

> All I'm looking for a clear statement from the OSI that
> public domain source code is open source software. That's all.
> Are you saying that US government software released to the software
> cannot be used as open source software?   I doubt that's what you
> mean.

Don't let any of our criticisms on this topic lead you to believe that 
none of us want OSI recognition of Public Domain software as Open 
Source Software. That is not the case. There are of course some who do 
feel that way, but many others including myself think it would be a 
useful thing.

But you have to realize that there are many problems that would come 
along with this recognition. The first problem is that of domains. 
Public Domain is in a completely different domain that why OSI is 
trying to define. PD has no copyright, while the OSI is trying to 
define a classification of software that has copyrights. It's like 
complaining that the Atlantic Salmon isn't listed in the Big British 
Book of Birds. If you feel that the purpose of bird books is to list 
all animals, then of course your complaint would be valid, but that is 
not the purpose of bird books.

The second problem is much more serious. How do you *know* that a piece 
of software is in the public domain? You can know that Apache is Open 
Source because it has the necessary attributes of a copyright and 
license that can be used to verify its status. But it's very hard to 
tell if a particular work which claims to be public domain really is. 
This is because merely stating that you are placing your work into the 
public domain is insufficient. Most works that claim to be public 
domain are in fact not. A recognition of Public Domain by the OSI could 
lead a lot of people into legal quagmires.

So here's a question to you. What is your pressing need for such a 
recognition? What problem is the lack of such recognition causing?

David Johnson
license-discuss archive is at