[Python-Dev] license issues with profiler.py and md5.h/md5c.c

Tim Peters tim.peters at gmail.com
Fri Feb 11 21:46:00 CET 2005

[Jeremy Hylton]
>> Unfortunately a license that says it is in the public domain is
>> unacceptable (and should be for Debian, too).  That is to say, it's
>> not possible for someone to claim that something they produce is in
>> the public domain.  See http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/6225

[Michael Chermside]
> Not quite true. It would be a bit off-topic to discuss on this list
> so I will simply point you to:
>    http://creativecommons.org/license/publicdomain-2
> ...which is specifically designed for the US legal system. It _IS_
> possible for someone to produce something in the public domain, it
> just isn't as easy as some people think (just saying it doesn't
> necessarily make it so (at least under US law)) and it may not be
> a good idea.

The article Jeremy pointed at was written by the Python Software
Foundation's occasional legal counsel, and he disagrees.  While I
would love to believe that copyright law isn't this bizarre, I can't
recommend going against the best legal advice the PSF was willing to
pay for <wink -- but Larry is widely recognized as a bona fide expert
in IP law, and has helped the PSF a lot>.

Note that Creative Commons doesn't recommend that you do either; from their FAQ:

   Can I use a Creative Commons license for software?

   In theory, yes, but it is not in your best interest. We strongly
encourage you to
   use one of the very good software licenses available today. (The
Free Software
   Foundation and the Open Source Initiative stand out as resources for such

> I would expect that if something truly WERE in the public domain,
> then it would be acceptable for Python (and for Debian too, for
> that matter).

So would I, but according to Larry there isn't such a thing (excepting
software written by the US Government; and for other software you
might be thinking about today, maybe in about a century if the author
lets their copyright lapse).

If Larry is correct, it isn't legally possible for an individual in
the US to disclaim copyright, regardless what they may say or sign. 
The danger then is that accepting software that purports to be free of
copyright can come back to bite you, if the author later changes their
mind (from your POV; the claim is that from US law's POV, nothing has
actually changed, since the author never actually gave up copyright to
begin with).

The very fact that this argument exists underscores the desirability
of only accepting software with an explicit license, spelling out the
copyright holder's intents wrt distribution, modification, etc.  Then
you're just in legal mud, instead of legal quicksand.

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