[License-discuss] Government licenses

Christopher Sean Morrison brlcad at mac.com
Wed May 29 00:25:06 UTC 2019

> On May 28, 2019, at 4:27 PM, Smith, McCoy <mccoy.smith at intel.com> wrote:
>  <>>>From: License-discuss [mailto:license-discuss-bounces at lists.opensource.org] On Behalf Of John Cowan
> >>Sent: Tuesday, May 28, 2019 1:24 PM
> >>To: license-discuss at lists.opensource.org
> >>Subject: Re: [License-discuss] Government licenses
> >>Government code is only public domain if it is written by actual government *employees* like Arthur David Olson (creator of the Olson timezone database and supporting code, now maintained at <https://www.iana.org/time-zones <https://www.iana.org/time-zones>>.   If software >>written by government *contractors*, which much of it is, its copyright status is whatever the contract says, and typically the contractor retains that copyright.
> So, basically, just like every other coder out there without a US employee badge.  The coders who use the licenses already on the list.

Sometimes yes, other times no.  Government contracting is typically more complicated.  Rights in software and data are handled separately, not lumped together, and governed by different regulatory clauses.  Those clauses are different for FARS and DFARS respectively, so who you’re contracting with matters greatly.  The regulations are often just a baseline for contractual clauses from which other clauses expand … or completely change.  It also matters where the funding source is, the color of the money [1], what type of software is involved…

For example, works developed under a SBIR contract give the Gov’t contractor unlimited rights for 5 years after contract end, unless it’s a particular type of software or data, which then flips to unlimited Gov't rights thereafter.  There are other situations where both sides could release, or neither side has adequate rights to release the software despite being the only parties involved.

Even when you have a proponent, it can take months or years of effort to provably sort everything out.  In industry, it’s typically simpler.  Who holds copyright and does the company permit it.  Moreover, a Gov’t contractor will typically ask for release permission regardless because nobody is going to risk a juicy contract renewal, even if they have the rights.

The result is significant uncertainty and hesitation by both parties.


[1] Just this year, DoD is taking a look at changing how software is developed, possibly changing DFARS in a big way: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/defense-main/2019/03/pentagon-promises-to-get-to-work-on-software-acquisition-overhaul/

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