[svlug] Fedora or Ubuntu for novis
rick at linuxmafia.com
Sun Sep 21 08:51:13 PDT 2008
Quoting Akkana Peck (akkana at shallowsky.com):
> I've heard people say that before, and many agencies do take that
> approach with the photographs that they publish on their web sites.
> But that's only a small fraction of the content created by public
> agencies. There's a lot of useful software created at agencies like
> NASA whose source is never made public.
I think you're confusing "made public" with "public domain".
You asked someone at NASA to make public a photo. The person said "no" --
but that didn't violate any right of yours. You had no entitlement to
get that particular NASA employee -- or any particular NASA employee --
to do you a personal favour and fetch a photo for you.
Now, suppose you happened to be visiting Jet Propulsion Laboratory and
got physical access to some of the unpublished Mars photos while you
were there. With permission, you browsed through them and made digital
copies for your own collection. You then took them home and put them on
your Web site. Some officious NASA administrator finds out, decides
he/she doesn't like you, and hauls you into court on a charge of
copyright infringement. Who prevails?
You do. You just point to United States Code chapter 17, section 105,
mention that NASA's spacecraft produced those photos, and you're done.
However, the officious NASA administrator probably would not attempt to
wield copyright law at you: The weapon of choice would probably be
violation of some confidentiality agreement you signed when you entered
JPL's premises. If you weren't made to sign such an agreement, I'd bet
Heads Would Roll within JPL.
But I'm speculating, having not personally had the pleasure of such a
> I've tried asking about source code a couple times, with no
> success. And when I ask friends who work for the government
> "Isn't software from publically funded projects supposed to be
> public domain?" I get only incredulous looks. The incredulity
> may be tied to the fact that a large amount of government work is
> classified, and so obviously is not made public (and in many cases
> will never be).
Quite so. Just because something is public domain doesn't entitle (or
for that matter enable) you to get a copy.
> Do you know what makes something a "work of the United States
> Government" as specified in 17 U.S.C. 105? Does it matter whether
> it was done entirely by US Government employees, vs. something done
> by another organization (say, JPL or UC) under contract from the
That is precisely the distinction being made by section 105, yes.
If a government agency assigns a government employee to paint great art,
the agency doesn't end up owning the copyright, and nobody who goes
around making copies can be (successfully) sued for infringment. On the
other hand, the agency can put out a public contract for an artist to
paint pictures, and it'll then acquire copyright title by contractual
transfer of ownership.
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