Open Source Petitions

CNET reports that the US government released “We the People” software for online petitions under GPL.  The GITHUB page says, “Releasing the source code for this application is meant to empower other governments and organizations to use this platform to engage their own citizens and constituencies. In addition, public review and contribution to the application’s code base will help strengthen and improve the platform.”

The interesting part, from a licensing perspective, is that the US government cannot own copyrights (except by assignment).  And indeed the GITHUB page says, “This project constitutes a work of the United States Government and is not subject to domestic copyright protection under 17 USC § 105.”  If it ended there, licensing under GPL would not be sensible — the work would be public domain.  But it also says, “The project utilizes code licensed under the terms of the GNU General Public License and therefore is licensed under GPL v2 or later.”  Presumably that refers to code authored by someone else, but I could not find any notices about third party GPL software.  (Perhaps they are buried somewhere in the packages on the site.)

The entire GPL text doesn’t seem to be in the download package.  There is only a link on the GITHUB page. Technically not the correct way to provide notice — though one could quibble about whether a side-by-side link is sufficient for on-line distribution.  Moreover, the link is to a generic FSF licensing page and not the text of GPL.  

The page also says, “By contributing to this project, you grant a world-wide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable license to all users under the terms of the Gnu General Public License v2 or later.”  Interesting substitute for a contribution agreement.

I suppose, in the universe of GITHUB projects, it is not the worst management of licensing and notices.  In other words, better than no notices at all.