Should governmnet software be Open Source?

Brice, Richard BriceR at WSDOT.WA.GOV
Wed Mar 8 18:52:30 UTC 2000

Public domain and Open Source are not the same thing... No problem with
that. However, I've seen government agencies exercise their right to
copyright material (at least I assume it is their right because it is done

As a specific example, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has
written some bridge design software that they refuse to share the source
code and charge non-government agencies upwards of $1500 per copy for the
executables. Please refer to sections 4 and 5 of their license agreement as
it asserts their copyright and position of
<> .

Assuming I am correct, and government agencies have the right to copyright
software and distribute it with what ever license agreement they choose, I
would contend that the software should be distributed under the terms and
conditions of an open source license.

Public domain is a legal term that means "not copyrighted". Anyone can take
public domain software, tweak it, call it their own, and copyright it. From
that point on, the software might not be "free" at all. If government wants
to provide the maximum benefit of its assets to its citizens, then an Open
Source license is the only way to go. Once a private individual or company
copyrights and restricts the use and further distribution of software that
was originally created by government, the remaining citizens are denied the
maximum benefit of their investment.

	-----Original Message-----
	From:	Derek J. Balling [SMTP:dredd at]
	Sent:	Wednesday, March 08, 2000 10:26 AM
	To:	Brice, Richard; 'license-discuss at'
	Subject:	Re: Should governmnet software be Open Source?

	Government-written and government-contracted software is NOT Open
	but it IS Public Domain.

	Knowing the differences is left as an exercise for the reader, but
if you 
	want the source code, a FOIA request would probably turn it up for
you in 
	short order.


	At 10:17 AM 3/8/00 -0800, Brice, Richard wrote:
	>Here is a question I'd like to get some thoughts on... Should
	>written by our government be Open Source? After all, we pay for it.
I think
	>we be given the opportunity to find new and creative uses for it.
	>I think open sourcing this software could also serve to make
government more
	>accountable. Take for instance the software that determines who
gets Social
	>Security, how much $$ they get, and then prints the checks. If this
	>was open source, a watch-dog group could review that code and
verify that
	>the government was making payments according to the rules. (What
about the
	>software the IRS uses to select tax returns for audits?)
	>A local or state government agency that pays Workman Comp benefits
	>take relevant portions from the Social Security check software and
apply it
	>to their system, potentially saving tax payers money on the cost of
	>What about military software? Would national security be
compromised if the
	>software for the guidance system of an ICBM was open source? Could
a tax
	>paying corporation like Boeing make use of such software in
	>What are your thoughts?

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