Copyright Question

Kirk Hilliard kirk at
Mon Mar 9 07:00:00 EST 1998

I am a developer with the Debian GNU/Linux distribution (aka
kirk at, and I want to put together some GIS packages.  I
have already received a request to package GRASS, and I will be
looking at it soon, but not in time for our 2.0 release code freeze
scheduled for a week and a half.  (We hope to have Debian 2.0 tested
and released before the end of April.)

One package that I am hoping to get in before the code freeze is PROJ,
some programs and library calls to convert between various geographic
projections and coordinate systems.  Here is a short description:

  PROJ.4 system written in ANSI-POSIX C provides three application
  programs (proj, nad2nad, and geod) as well as an easy to use library
  for use in user-written application programs.  More than 110 forward
  projections are provided and inverses are available for most (all
  commonly used ones).  NADCON datum conversion program is supplied as
  well as complete support for SPCS and several international grid
  systems.  Illustrated documentation is supplied as three PostScript

  Available at ftp site:


  in directory pub/PROJ.4 .  Check README in this directory for
  description of files.

Unfortunately, I have run into some copyright troubles.  PROJ does not
come with any note describing copyright, license, or distribution
terms.  It was written by Jerry Evenden (now retired) as part of his
official duties at the USGS.  This makes it a work of the US
Government, and 17 USC 105 says:

  105. Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works

    Copyright protection under this title is not available for any
    work of the United States Government, but the United States
    Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights
    transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

(See .)

Our concern is that Title 17 covers US copyright, not international
copyright.  Section 105 simply states that works of the US government
are not to receive copyright protection under US law.  It does not
place the work in the public domain; it just makes the US copyright
unenforceable.  Since copyright is compulsory in all Berne convention
countries, the US government has copyright on its works in all such
countries.  Thus it is not clear that you are free to use works of the
US government in non-US countries.  Perhaps the US government could
sue you in British courts for violating their British copyright were
you to use their works there.

I understand that part of GRASS development was done by the US Army
Corps of Engineers, so I was wondering if you had a better insight on
the copyright situation, or could tell me where to look for more

BTW, all Debian distribution packages must meet out free software

Kirk Hilliard

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