NASA requests help finding gov't use of standard OSS licenses.

VanL van.lindberg at
Tue May 3 13:42:50 UTC 2011

On 5/2/2011 4:03 PM, Karl Fogel wrote:

> Hmm, so how does NOSA get enforced on someone who didn't "agree" to it?
> That is, if the code itself is in the public domain, and I get a copy of
> it, then how are NOSA's terms binding on me?

Without having researched this issue in depth, my off-the-cuff answer 
would be that it functions as a unilateral contract: NASA makes the 
offer for you to use the code under certain conditions (the NOSA), and 
you signal your acceptance of the terms by using the code. No 
click-through required.

>    2) Something about using a contract to get around the plain intent of
>       the "government works are public domain" rule sticks in the craw :-).
>       Public domain is public domain; one shouldn't have to file a FOIA
>       request to get the code.  Public domain is open source too, anyway.

The problem was that frequently contractors would take NASA-written code 
in the public domain, trivially modify it, and then sell it back to the 
government at a large markup. Note that this is still happening - see 
the many closed forks of VistA.

> Now, if what NASA wants is the ability to copyleft, then that's an
> interesting proposition, but it's a specialized case of simply wanting
> to open source the code, which they can do without NOSA or any other
> license/contract.

Well, maybe. The perception at NASA was that because open source depends 
on copyright, the government could not effectively open source code. Do 
you remember the initial decision in Jacobsen v. Katzer -- where the 
Artistic license was not initially upheld because the district court 
found that it did not effectively restrict any of the rights granted 
under copyright? That reasoning becomes much more effective in the case 
of government-written code where there are no rights under copyright to 
license at all.

This is a big deal for a lot of people in the government. I know another 
program that donates 95% finished code to a university under a 
public/private partnership so that the university can hold copyright and 
thus open source the code.



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