Subject: Re: Can OSI specify that public domain is open source?
From: Karl Fogel <>
Date: Wed, 07 Sep 2011 15:35:56 -0400

John Cowan <> writes:
>In the U.S., yes, but users of such software outside the U.S. are
>technical infringers.  See the NASA Open Source License, which exists to
>deal with that possibility.
>What's more, if you modify a public domain program, the modified version
>bears your copyright (even if not marked as such), and the result is
>fully proprietary unless you give it a license.  Some of the code in the
>self-declared public domain Olson TZ database, to say nothing of the
>database itself, is quite shaky in this respect:  Arthur David Olson is
>a federal employee, but the current maintainer, Paul Eggert, works for
>the State of California (assuming I have not conflated two different
>Paul Eggerts here).

In the current situation, OSI is supposed to either deny or not affirm
that (say) SQLite is open source.  That seems a worse result.

>> OSI can point out that it might be difficult for certain parties to
>> place something in the public domain, but we should be clear about
>> the fact that, once it is established that something is in the public
>> domain, that thing is open source.  That's what I'd like to do.
>But how is this to be established?  Barring forgery, if something is
>said to be under the GPL or the BSD or the Apache license, it is so.
>But saying something is in the public domain does *not* make it so, at
>least not beyond the reach of dispute.

CC0 is an attempt to deal with this.

>> I wish the FAQ discussion were adequate, but since I've watched
>> knowledgeable people on various lists assert that PD is not OSS,
>> because they couldn't find it in the license list or other places
>> where they expected to find it, I think that's as much proof as we
>> could ask for that the FAQ location is not adequate by itself :-).
>I agree with those people:  PD does not function like OSS and shouldn't
>be treated as OSS.

What about SQLite?  It appears to function like an OSS project, and
meets the OSD as far as I can tell...