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Re: [vox] expectation of privacy on an open mailing list?
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Re: [vox] expectation of privacy on an open mailing list?



Quoting Richard S. Crawford (rscrawford@mossroot.com):

> From what I can tell, the very definition of public domain is in
> question.  "It's a moving target," I read in one article about the
> subject.

The duration of copyright has changed over time, because Congress keeps
monkeying with it,[1] but some people have actually done some checking
to identify what software has become public domain through actual lapse
of the statutory coverage.  What it boils down to is that no software of
any conceivable modern use has yet become public domain.

Creative works (including software) published or generated directly by 
the Federal government are by law not covered by copyright, and thus are
public domain ab initio.  However, if the work was created by a
non-government contractor, it became copyrighted upon creation, and
nothing prevents the Feds from _owning_ such copyrights (e.g., as part
of the deal with the contractor).

Also, prior to 1978-01-01, it was possible to lose copyright protection
through pilot error, e.g., by publishing the work without a valid
copyright notice.[2]  Beginning 1978, however, to bring US law in
compliance with treaty, copyright has come into existence automatically
whenever you put a (covered) creative work "in fixed form" -- and owners
got a five-year grace period to fix any broken copyright notices.  It's
possible that some software became public domain through that mechanism,
but not much -- and you'd potentially have to prove it, in the event of
dispute.

Last, copyright coverage applies only to "creative" works.  One might
successfully argue that a five-line shell script has insufficient
creative content to be covered by copyright law.  Once, a couple of
decades back, one of the telcos attempted to bar other companies from
republishing its Yellow Pages listings, claiming a compilation
copyright[3] over the arrangement of ads and telephone numbers.  It
lost completely, because the court said putting together a telephone
directory simply isn't a significantly creative act.

> So, I guess we can just assume that everything we write and see is 
> copyrighted and we should be behave accordingly.

Yes, but you shouldn't overestimate the implications.  For one thing,
the courts recognise _licences_ under copyright though oral speech,
writing, or conduct.  Thus, in posting a message to a mailing list or
newsgroup, you're impliedly granting a whole raft of permissions for the 
distribution and use of your work.  The extent of that implied licence
is of course arguable -- by those willing to spend money and time on
court battles.  And, of course, some usage is explicitly permitted by
the "fair use" provisions (reproduction of limited excerpts for purposes
such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or
research).

I was once threatened with a copyright-violation lawsuit for archiving a
collection of newsgroup posts on my Web/ftp site.  I considered the
matter, and then ignored the threat.

If, hypothetically, your use of someone's writings is outside any
implied licence and doesn't qualify as fair use, it could be found by
some court to be copyright infringement, which is a tort (a civil
wrong).  But even then, it's not necessarily a serious matter, as courts 
consider what's at stake in deciding how big a tort something is.  I
estimate that someone suing for archiving of Usenet posts would be told 
"Please get out of my courtroom."

> Rick, how much do I owe you for the paragraphs below?

<grin>  Hearty handshake or a beer, whichever's more convenient.

Again, momma ain't raised no lawyers, so this ain't legal advice, y'all.


[1] Entirely different, and most annoying topic, that.  L'havdil.

[2] Which basically means just "Copyright (C) My_Name 2003".  The phrase
"All Rights Reserved", last I heard, is a legal fossil that no longer
means anything except in Bolivia and Honduras -- but even that may have
finally gotten fixed by treaty.  Technically, just the word "Copyright"
and not the (C) is enough, for that part -- or the © symbol.  But
"Copyright (C)" serves as a nice belt-and-suspenders formula. 

[3] A compilation copyright is the monopoly granted over the arrangement
of other people's works, e.g., by the editor of a collection of short
stories.   On my old BBS, I asserted compilation copyright over the
design of the BBS as a whole.

-- 
Cheers,                                      "My file system's got no nodes!"
Rick Moen                                    "How does it shell?"
rick@linuxmafia.com  
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