What is Non-Copyright?

AJ ONeal coolaj86 at gmail.com
Thu May 17 12:16:30 MDT 2012

> > 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.

Yup. And the other way.

> 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.

(you can skip the registration if you scroll to the bottom after clicking

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


>  > 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.

Much clearer. Thank you.

>  > 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.

Meh. If it were Oracle I'd prefer to be surer than sure. In fact, I'd
prefer not to use it. It's the government. The people in the government
I've worked with are just as frustrated and confused as the rest of us (and
perhaps morso).


There's only so many ways to write a rangeCheck function anyway.

What I mean is that no matter who you are you're going to use the same
algorithm. You function names might be different and you might multiply
before you device, but you end up with code that does the same thing. How
many ways are there to copy a trigonometric function?

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

http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag/WMM/DoDWMM.shtml (same link as above)

There's a decent chance that we'll release our code as well.
We give away a lot of code so that our customers can more easily use our

We also give away a lot of code that starts out as one project and ends up
a fringe product that is outside the scope of our work -- like dropsha.re

AJ ONeal

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