Re: Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX) specification for Public Domain, Government Works? Possible New License/Exception Request

Philippe Ombredanne

On Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 7:19 PM, Robinson, Norman <RobinsonN@...> wrote:

In review of SPDX specification (, I’m not seeing a clear
annotation for U.S. Public Domain. Could you please clarify if such a
license currently exists and I have failed to understand or find it? Any
links or clarification appreciated!

As a federal government employee involved with open source projects, I would
like to understand if we can have a SPDX license for public domain or
government works to better enable federal agencies to contribute code and
make the licensing and copyright clear. There is currently an efforts to
renew support for custom software code ( ensure all
government produced works are clearly promoted and licensing is required to
be open source. Having a license targeted at public domain, or specifically
referencing government contribution, might promote and encourage open source

As you may be aware, for federal employees and most government agencies, the
copyright is simply “This is a work of the U.S. Government and is not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Foreign rights may
apply.” that falls into the public domain. In terms of operational
knowledge, that is also affected by the government contract with vendors,
and how the rights are asserted and assumed. Reference:; It seems this new
initiative – although one could simply state it is related to government
failing to clearly mark contracted works as public domain – is to
specifically assign an open source license approach, to assert specific
copyright as the law allows agencies to do for specific needs. In this case,
I pull that rationale from the linked sites as the need to “enables Federal
employees to work together—both within and across agencies—to reduce costs,
streamline development, apply uniform standards, and ensure consistency in
creating and delivering information.6 Enhanced reuse of custom-developed
code across the Federal Government can have significant benefits for
American taxpayers, such as reducing Federal vendor lock-in,7 decreasing
duplicative costs for the same code, increasing transparency across the
Federal Government, and minimizing the challenges associated with
integrating large blocks of code from multiple sources.”
This is awesome!

I’m happy to make a recommendation on the SPDX format, if you care to
respond and let me know if there have been additional discussions on this
topic to be considered, if an existing license is recommended, or if in
review you agree there is a need for such a specification.
This would be great and makes a lot of sense to me. Getting this as a license
in the list would mean consistency and simplicity both for the agencies
releasing code and for their recipients.
I have seen various ways Federal agencies handle this such as the NIST in
[1] (ignoring the funny Untied States typo).

At the minimum I would in much favor to have a license identifier for a generic
dedication to the public domain beyond the existing Creative Commons CC0.

Alternatively I have seen projects use a choice of a custom dedication or
CC0 such as in [2]. This helps deal with some countries (Germany? ) that do
not recognize public domain and is not incompatible with having an id.

Legal mavens, what's your take?

Philippe Ombredanne

Join to automatically receive all group messages.