The Public Domain here, there, and everywhere

Dennis E. Hamilton dennis.hamilton at
Tue Nov 2 05:30:53 CET 2010

There is no public-domain copyright status in the US.  A work is either in copyright or in public domain (because copyright has lapsed).  Works are assumed born in copyright.

The closest to a public-domain declaration is a quit-claim.  It can't even be registered with the US Copyright Office.

To make things a bit more decorous and traceable, there is a Creative Commons no-rights CC0 license that provides a nice formal way to make the quit-claim: <>.

This did not exist at the time that Phil Katz did his work, but if you can find enough authoritative declarations it would probably hold up as a defense against copyright infringement.  But consult your own lawyer about that sort of thing.  

One problem, of course, is determining just what (US-defined, including software) literary work is it that has been declared to be in the Public Domain.  That matters too.  Here, specificity is important.  And none of this has anything to do with other forms of IP such as patents and trademarks.

 - Dennis

-----Original Message-----
From: sc34wg1study-bounces at [mailto:sc34wg1study-bounces at] On Behalf Of Horton, Gareth
Sent: Monday, November 01, 2010 20:42
To: robert_weir at; ISO Zip
Subject: RE: [sc34-wg1]

Hi Rob,

Just a small correction below on public domain:

-----Original Message-----
From: sc34wg1study-bounces at [mailto:sc34wg1study-bounces at] On Behalf Of robert_weir at
Sent: 01 November 2010 13:38
To: ISO Zip
Subject: RE: [sc34-wg1]

[ ... ]

If you talk to a lawyer, you'll be told that "public domain" has no set 
meaning, except for creative works that are older than their statutory 
copyright terms.  So this press release -- if genuine -- is at best 
ambiguous.  As you know, it was "discovered" by one SC34 "invited expert" 
who then put on the ZIP Wikipedia page to give it credence.  The page does 
not even load for me right now.  And it is certainly not at a site that 
immediately suggests authenticity. 

>>>You mean a U.S lawyer maybe.  Dedicating works to the public domain certainly has a set meaning in U.K law - all intellectual property rights have been forfeited. I wouldn't be so sure this is not the case in the U.S.
>>>Maybe the U.S argument is that they are a form of copyright license, which can be revoked at will, but since Phil Katz did not do that in his lifetime ...

>>>Looks like UK-based implementors will be at an advantage ;-)

>>>In addition, the statement on the format being released into the public domain was also on PKWARE's own web site and still is, as of today (, so I think we can put that issue to bed.

[ ... ]

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