What is Non-Copyright?

Charles Curley charlescurley at charlescurley.com
Thu May 17 11:54:37 MDT 2012

On Thu, 17 May 2012 11:07:05 -0600
AJ ONeal <coolaj86 at gmail.com> wrote:

> My coworker found some code online we want to use for positioning
> with gps and magnetic declination data.

I take it this is for converting a "true" course (which is what GPS
gives you) to a magnetic course, suitable for magnetic compass
applications such as small boats and light aircraft.

> It contains no license and was found publicly available on some site
> of an organization of the federal government (noa.gov).

I get no "noa.gov" on the web or in whois, so I suspect that is a typo
for "noaa.gov", which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, or "noah" for short.

> Under U.S. law, source code which is written by employees of the
> federal government is non-copyright (see wikipedia).


> Does anyone know if non-copyright is the same as public domain?
> Is it otherwise compatible with open source licenses?
> Is it otherwise compatible with commercial licenses?

They are not the same. "Public domain" means that something is old
enough that any copyrights have expired, e.g. the King James bible. A
lot of people mistakenly release things to the public domain, which is
effectively giving permission to copy, reuse, etc. at will.
"Non-copyright" means what it says, the author refuses to copyright a
work. They have much the same practical effect.

> I'm pretty sure that the government intended it to be used by
> companies like us to improve upon and sell it back to them bundled
> with our product so I don't see an issue or need to get in touch with
> our lawyer about it.

You may be correct. NASA has a program for commercializing NASA
technology, which is where its monthly Tech Briefs publication comes
from. Need a *thorough* 6502 assembly language memory test?

However, I would scrounge around the NOAA web site and see if there is
an explicit grant of use on the site. If so, I'd document where I got
the code, and include the text and source URL of the grant of use.

> I'm just curious.

When I use someone else's code, I prefer to be more than curious, I
prefer to be sure.

Would you care to make the code available? I expect others could use


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