Legal Team/Decisions/Dealing with Public Domain within SPDX Files

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On several ocassions, it has been suggested to add a "public domain" short identifer to the SPDX License List, as this would allow a short and efficient way to identify software that has been released into the public domain. Upon discussion by the SPDX Legal Team, the idea of having a "generic" identifier for something that it released into the public domain was rejected. This would not be practical for a number of reasons and public domain dedications have already been handled like any other license.

  1. The concept of public domain does not necessarily translate across jurisdictions and the conditions under which a work can be released to the public domain vary on an country-by-country basis. Thus, having a short identifier could potentially only introduce ambiguity as to what that short identifier precisely means.  The goal of the SPDX License List is to increase accuracy, not ambiguity, when it comes to identifying how software has been licensed.
  2. Some public domain "dedications" are really licenses.  That is, examples exist where the author calls it "public domain," yet the terms include conditions, thus making the terms resemble a license.  If there was a generic public domain short identifier on the SPDX License List, this could result in an SPDX user identifying such a scenario using the short identifier, instead of capturing the actual text of the license, which would be incorrect.
  3. By having a generic identifier with no corresponding license text to match to places the burden on the SPDX user to make a legal interpretation to determine whether the software is indeed public domain and therefore, warrants using the generic public domain identifier.  The goal of the SPDX License List is to avoid such interpretations, but providing a list of vetted short identifiers and license text than can be definitively matched, including by using the efficiency of automated processes (i.e. scanning tools, etc.).
  4. Commonly found public domain dedications have already been included on the SPDX License List  (e.g., ANTLR, Sax, CC-0). Other public domain dedications or licenses that are not on the SPDX License List can be requested in the same way that any other license is requested to be added.
  5. Where something is noted with a public domain dedication, it can be captured the same was as any (other) license. That is, if it is something is part of the SPDX License List, it will have a short identifier, full name and exact text match like the examples above, and if it is not on the SPDX License List, it can be captured the same way as any (other) license not on the list via a license reference.

last updated 28 February 2013