Public domain software is not open-source?

John Cowan cowan at
Sun Mar 2 18:15:16 UTC 2008

Rick Moen scripsit:

> > This isn't my discussion.  I am merely pointing out that OSI has 
> > recognized the possibility (note: not existence) of PD, open source, 
> > computer software.
> At bare minimum, software of some very early computers will have, by
> now, passed into the public domain unequivocably.  I doubt any remains
> of general interest, however.

There is, however, the Olson (zoneinfo) software package, which is widely
used wherever time zone information is desired.  It, or its derivatives,
appear in almost every non-Windows operating system, in Java, and in
many other places.  And because Olson is a U.S. government employee
(a sysadmin for NIH), the package is ab initio in the public domain.

> In any event (as my page also mentions in passing), OSI's certification
> program certifies licences.  Public domain is not a licence.

True.  However, OSI also certifies (or rather, allows others to self-certify
under restrictions) open-source *software*.  It is not enough that a program
be licensed under an open-source license; it must also be released in source
form, in conformance with OSD #2.  You can't license a block of random-looking
bits under the BSD license and claim it's open source.

Contrariwise, even though truly PD software is not licensed, if it is
source-available it is perfectly feasible to declare it open-source software.
I think the OSI should do so.

By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall     cowan at
have neither the Ring nor me!  --Frodo

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