Chad Perrin perrin at
Fri May 8 18:36:45 UTC 2009

On Fri, May 08, 2009 at 01:09:51AM -0400, Steve Bertrand wrote:
> I'm looking for advice on how I can take all of my code, and license it
> into the public domain. I'm sure that most people won't have any
> interest in it, but I really want to ensure that what I have done is
> freely accessible.

The term "public domain" has a very specific legal meaning and,
unfortunately, that meaning can actually vary from jurisdiction to
jurisdiction.  For instance, while France does have a public domain, you
cannot release a work into the public domain -- you must use a specific
license if you want to grant open access to that work.  In most
jurisdictions, "public domain" refers to a state where one has disclaimed
copyright for something or otherwise given up all copyright claims on it.

Note that "copyright" and "credit" are not the same thing, however.
Attribution is ethically a matter of fraud, and most jurisdictions will
legally treat it as a matter of fraud as well if something is
misrepresented as being written by someone other than its actual author,
though some jurisdictions add additional attribution protection through

It is for reason of the fact that copyright law is much more widely
supported across different jurisdictions (i.e., in different countries or
legal systems) than any standardized understanding of public domain that
most people with any understanding of the complexities will recommend
using a license rather than the public domain, even if what you want is
effectively "the public domain".  If that's your actual goal, select a
license whose terms most closely approximate the public domain as you
understand it, and let that be your legally binding statement of intent
(for any jurisdiction that recognizes your copyright and your licensing
privilege under copyright law).

I'm happy to see someone wanting to make his code available to the world,
by the way.  Kudos to you.  If there are no competing copyright claims on
any of the work (such as an employment agreement that might interfere
with your sole copyright claims), I absolutely encourage you to see
through your intent to open the code up.

Note, however, that I am not a lawyer in *any* jurisdiction, and the
above should not be considered legal advice per se.  Courts of law are
notoriously fickle things that, for some reason, tend to be really bad at
interpreting things the way the majority of humans believe they should be
interpreted.  Let the buyer beware, as they say.

> All of my code is pretty well separated into different files that
> contain different functions, so isolating portions of my programs that
> use modules or functions that are external is not a problem.
> GPL seems too verbose legally for me. Can the BSD license fit into any
> code, no matter what language it is in, and if so, can I have my code
> overlooked by someone who can verify that the BSD license will fit?

Have you considered choosing a license that doesn't lock what you give to
the world into the realm of "code"?  While the terms of the BSD license
for code in particular are great in my opinion, the fact that they
specify software source code is not so great, because sticky ambiguities
can arise when someone wants to include that code in a non-software
context (such as writing an article or a book that makes use of the code,
including it in music lyrics, showing it in a video production of some
sort, and so on).

My favorite license for all purposes at present is the Open Works
License, and I actually use it to license all my emails to this mailing

While I'm at it, my favorite general licensing policy is copyfree.  Where
strong copyright protection is the default for many countries, notably
the US and much of Europe, and copyleft is the Free Software Foundation's
answer to copyright as a way of turning the purpose of copyright on its
head, copyfree is kind of a rejection of both copyright and copyleft.
Check out the canonical explanation:

Both the BSD license and the Open Works License are copyfree licenses, as
are a number of other popular and widely used licenses.

I hope you get some value from my rambling.

Chad Perrin [ original content licensed OWL: ]
Quoth Thomas McCauley: "The measure of a man's real character is what he
would do if he knew he would never be found out."
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