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Article from Issue 206/2018

Open source communities need equal rights.


The Universal Donor

A few people reacted negatively to my article on why Public Domain Software (PDS) is broadly unsuitable for inclusion in a community open source project. Most argued that because public domain gave them the rights they need where they live (mostly the USA), I should not say it was wrong to use it.

That demonstrates either parochialism or a misunderstanding of what public domain really means. It should not be used for the same reason code known to be subject to software patents should not be used – namely that only code that, to the best efforts possible, can be used by anyone, anywhere, without the need to ask permission (e.g., by buying a patent license) or to check if it's needed (e.g., is that PDS code public domain here?) to be used in an open source project. Public domain fails the test for multiple reasons: global differences in copyright terms, copyright as an unalienable moral rather than as a property right, and more.

Yes, public domain may give you the rights you need. But in an open source project, it's not enough for you to determine you personally have the rights you need. In order to function, every user and contributor of the project needs prior confidence that they can use, improve, and share the code, regardless of their location or the use to which they put it. That confidence also has to extend to their colleagues, customers, and community as well.


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