Subject: Re: Open Source and Government agencies
Date: Sun, 27 Feb 2000 12:32:38 -0800

On Sat, Feb 26, 2000 at 01:04:42PM -0800, Tim O'Reilly wrote:
> I just recently got this query from a customer, and wondered if anyone
> on this list had any comments, based on experience with government
> agencies.  My inclination is to suggest he do what Larry did, which is
> just to do it, but it sounds like he's already asked his higher ups, so
> that is not an option.
> O'Reilly Book Support wrote:
> > ------- Forwarded Message
> > 
> > Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2000 13:43:35 -0600 (CST)
> > From: "William H Asquith, Hydrol(Eng), Austin, TX " <>
> > To:
> > cc:
> > Subject: Help: Perl-Open_Source-Government
> > 
> > All,
> > 
> > I need serious help.  I am nearing completion of a huge Perl/Tk
> > 2-D charting application.  I want to release the program under some sort
> > of open-source license.  However, there is some confusion from my higher
> > ups how this can be done given that government software is public domain.
> > I read that Larry Wall used to work for JPL and NASA, presumably he was
> > releasing Perl under some licensing at that time as a government
> > employee? Could  you forward this email to him or any other appropriate
> > people for advice on open-sourcing government software?
> > 
> > For reasons to complicated to list, I am very concerned about releasing
> > under public domain as I do not want the code to fork or to be sucked up
> > by a closed-source company as has been done in the past with government
> > code.

Usually the licensing of Federal Governement works is something you'd
want to hammer out when negotiating a contract.

If the current situation is that the code is acknowledged as being PD,
then anyone, includin presumably William as a private citizen, could
release their own version of the program incorporating as much or little
of the origininal work, under whatever terms they choose.  That's what
PD means.

What can't be done IMO is to preclude anyone else from releasing the
code under other terms.  That's the "fork or suck" problem -- for
better or worse, PD was the GPL the founding fathers had to work with.

One possible way to address this would be for the agency involved
to commit to a particular license (sounds as if the GPL or a
lesser-but-largely-copyleft license such as the LGPL or MozPL would be
desired), identify as suggested elsewhere a sponsor for maintaining this
code, and identify this codebase as the preferred one for working with
in future revisions of the project.  PD forking may still occur, but
the clear fruits of future development will be in the licensed version.

> > Thanks!  Great books--have 20 of them.
> > 
> > - -wha
> > 
> > William H. Asquith, Hydrologist
> > U.S. Geological Survey, Austin, Texas
> > 
> > ------- End of Forwarded Message
> -- 
> Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
> 101 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472
> +1 707-829-0515, FAX +1 707-829-0104

Karsten M. Self (
    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?

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