[License-discuss] Government licenses

Ben Hilburn bhilburn at gmail.com
Tue May 28 20:19:14 UTC 2019

Thanks for expanding on this point, Van!

> But if it’s public domain, the government has no right to dictate how
>> those modifications are subsequently licensed.  That’s sort of the whole
>> point of public domain.
> Yes - they had no right under *copyright.* But that doesn't mean that they
> didn't have a legitimate reason to reach for other tools - in this case,
> contract law - to try to accomplish their goals.
> But like I said, I don't have a dog in this fight. I just happened to know
> the backstory for NOSA from the original source. In this case, the
> motivation was something that was not too far off from what motivated other
> copyleft licenses. I just thought that this background could help inform
> the discussion.

So I actually *do* have a "dog in this fight", and this is an issue I care
a lot about. To be clear, IANAL, but I very regularly work with folks in
federal government dealing with GOSS issues - both generally and for F/OSS
projects that I lead or am involved with in some way. The points that
Nigel, Van, and and Brendan raise are serious barriers, and I have had
innumerable phone calls with fedgov R&D labs, trying to sort out how they
can release or upstream code. Many of them simply give up at some point,
unable to get approval internally. This has very serious negative
consequences for projects, government users, the community at large, and
the taxpayer.

There are prominent examples of various orgs trying clever ways to get
around this, as Van mentioned. One recent example is the NSA's release of
Ghidra, where they include a license (Apache 2.0), then a `NOTICE` file
that says it cannot apply to the entire codebase but that *it is meant to*.
Check out this `Licensing Intent` section from the Ghidra Github repository
which is the most clear description I've seen, from a government agency,
laying out the problem and their attempted work-around:

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