International treatment of the public domain

Russell McOrmond russell at
Tue Feb 17 20:03:58 UTC 2004

On Tue, 17 Feb 2004, Arnoud Engelfriet wrote:

> I don't think it is legal in the USA to apply your own license to
> a public domain work. How can you license something to which you
> do not have a copyright?

  This is just some of the odd things we end up if we play the word game
we were being lead into.  I was trying to follow with the concept that a
work in the public domain in the USA, unrelated to copyright term
differences, was potentially not in the public domain outside of the USA.

  If NASA has the ability to apply a license in a foreign country to a
works that is in the public domain in the USA, then does not any other US
citizen have the ability to apply a license as well?  If these other US
citizens do not, then does NASA?

  Does the concept of there being a "copyright holder" outside of the USA
make sense when US legislation says that the US government creator does
not receive copyright inside the USA?

> I think so. In fact it may be impossible for a work to truly enter
> the public domain in any other way. Most countries recognize the
> concept of 'moral rights' that are inalienable rights of the
> author and which cannot be transferred or given up.

  Different countries treat this differently.  In Canada you can waive
your moral rights, but cannot transfer them.

  If the phrase "public domain" means "not protected by copyright", then
the actual meaning of the public domain changes in every country as 
copyright is different in every country.

  I will be watching the work of iCommons Canada
<> and suggest that they include a
Canadian public domain declaration in with their Canadianized license
agreements.  My hope is that once they are finished the Creative Commons 
licenses that they will start into some of the most popular OSI and FSF 
approved software licenses.

  I wonder if the OSI is interested in this type of International work 
similar to what the Creative Commons is doing?

 Russell McOrmond, Internet Consultant: <> 
 Perspective of a digital copyright reformer on Sheila Copps, MP.
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