Should governmnet software be Open Source?

Derek J. Balling dredd at
Wed Mar 8 19:04:49 UTC 2000

At 10:52 AM 3/8/00 -0800, Brice, Richard wrote:
>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

It would be interesting to challenge the copyright. :)  As far as I knew, 
the government didn't have any ability to DO that.

>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
><> .

I don't know about State gov't's, but I'm almost positive the US gov't 
can't do things like that.

Considering that the code is paid for by tax dollars, I would suspect an 
FOIA request would still yield the source code, since it IS public property.

>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.

Open Source requires the ability to copyright and "protect" the data, which 
to my recollection the US gov't at least cannot do. To use your example, 
let's say the gov't create Widget-Software-1.0, which does something 
"neat". Evil-Company (located in a Seattle suburb) gets WS1.0 and tries to 
copyright it. They CAN'T copyright 1.0, it's already in the public domain. 
They can take it, tweak it a little, call it 1.1, and copyright THAT all 
they want. That's their legal right. They have taken what their/your/my tax 
dollars paid for and modified it to their needs. The changed version has 
THEIR modifications, which they are free to deny you. You can still obtain 
the original 1.0 "from the source" and do whatever you like with it 
(possible creating a more open version of 1.1 to compete with 
Evil-Company's product).


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