Subject: Re: Please add "Public Domain" to "license" list
From: Rick Moen <>
Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 10:10:16 -0800

Quoting David A. Wheeler (

> Hello - I'd like to ask OSI to add "Public Domain" to the
> open source software license list at:

I'm not sure there's reasonable consensus on the legal effect of
declaring one's copyrighted work to be in the public domain.

In the context of USA Federal law, at least, I've looked in vain through
17 USC to find any provision permitting a copyrighted work to become
public domain before expiry of its copyright term.  

People have sometimes claimed that caselaw has interpreted public-domain
declarations as irrevocable licences for gratis usage by anyone -- but I
haven't seen citations, let alone any showing that wide legal precedent
exists.  Moreover, it seems a-priori unlikely that an author could
excuse himself from any duties that go with copyright ownership, though
such a declaration:  Otherwise, it'd be a dandy way to evade
product-liability lawsuits.

It seems possible, even, that a public-domain declaration might have
_no_ legal effect.  All told, I don't know if the OSI should want to put
its stamp on this particular can of worms.

(Disclaimer:  IANAL.  Fortunately, the above does not contain legal
assertions, only questions I think are relevant.)

Cheers,                                      "My file system's got no nodes!"
Rick Moen                                    "How does it shell?"  
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