International treatment of the public domain

jcowan at jcowan at
Tue Feb 17 22:33:18 UTC 2004

Russell McOrmond scripsit:

> > >   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?
> > 
> > Why, because NASA, through its employees who actually write the works, is
> > the author.
>   Like other forms of "work for hire", the employer (The United States
> Government) would be the copyright holder if there was copyright.  In this
> case the employer has released the works into the public domain via
> legislation.

Just so.  NASA is the author, but the works are born in the public domain
in the U.S. (but apparently not elsewhere).

> I believe that
> first-copyright should only exist for natural persons, and that any
> transfer of copyright to an employer (natural person or corporation), if
> it happens at all, should be negotiated as part of an employment agreement
> or other legal document.

Effectively it's just an implicit term in such an agreement.  It is already
possible to contract out of it by explicit language.

> > Just as much as the notion that _Steamboat Willie_ has a copyright holder
> > in the U.S. but not in Canada.
>   You will need to provide a reference here.  

I was referring to the notorious 1928 film starring Mickey Mouse.  This work
seems to be P.D. in Canada under the 50-year provision for cinematographic
works, but is very much in copyright in the U.S.

A poetical purist named Cowan           [that's me: jcowan at]
Once put the rest of us dowan.          [on xml-dev]
    "Your verse would be sweeter
    If it only had metre      
And rhymes that didn't force me to frowan."     [overpacked line!] --Michael Kay
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