What is Non-Copyright?

Charles Curley charlescurley at charlescurley.com
Thu May 17 12:53:40 MDT 2012

On Thu, 17 May 2012 12:16:30 -0600
AJ ONeal <coolaj86 at gmail.com> wrote:

> > 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.
> >
> Yup.
> http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag/WMM/DoDWMM.shtml
> (you can skip the registration if you scroll to the bottom after
> clicking download)

Thank you.

> >
> > > Under U.S. law, source code which is written by employees of the
> > > federal government is non-copyright (see wikipedia).
> >
> > Citation?
> >
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_status_of_work_by_the_U.S._government
> http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/105

Thank you, that is most useful.

Note that code written by contractors may be exempt. I say "may be"
because it depends on the terms between the government agency and the
contractor. For example I wrote that memory test code as a contractor
on a work for hire basis, so it belongs entirely to NASA and would have
been eligible for release.

> >  > 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.

Given that source in Fortran and C is readily available, etc., I'd say
that your suspicion is very likely true.

> 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).
> http://www.i-programmer.info/news/193-android/4224-oracle-v-google-judge-is-a-programmer.html
> There's only so many ways to write a rangeCheck function anyway.

This is true. As I understand things, you can copyright code, but not
algorithms. So I can write a program to calculate the date of Easter
and copyright that. But the algorithm was developed by the Roman
Catholic Church in the 4th or 5th century, and later adjusted for the
Julian calendar. So I couldn't copyright the algorithm.

(Where is the dividing line between code and algorithm? I'm glad you
asked that question. Let me know when you find an answer.)

> 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?

And one person might write a more efficient version than another. Or
other variations. And that can be protected.

> >
> > 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 products.
> 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
> /*
> PLUG: http://plug.org, #utah on irc.freenode.net
> Unsubscribe: http://plug.org/mailman/options/plug
> Don't fear the penguin.
> */


Charles Curley                  /"\    ASCII Ribbon Campaign
Looking for fine software       \ /    Respect for open standards
and/or writing?                  X     No HTML/RTF in email
http://www.charlescurley.com    / \    No M$ Word docs in email

Key fingerprint = CE5C 6645 A45A 64E4 94C0  809C FFF6 4C48 4ECD DFDB

More information about the PLUG mailing list