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[ih] Who owns old RFCs ?

John may not be a lawyer, but I think he gets the milestones and their
implications right. After the adoption of the Berne Convention on March 1,
1989 by the US, copyright was implicitly held by the author without need of
registration. Regarding the Copyright Act of 1976, it was signed into law
on October 19, 1976 but went into effect on 1 January 1978:

On *October 19, 1976*, President Gerald Ford signed the Copyright Act of
1976 (Public Law 94-553), the first major revision of the copyright law
since 1909. The law, with certain exceptions, went into effect on January
1, 1978, and superseded the 1909 act. The 1976 act extended federal
copyright protection to all works, both published and unpublished, once
they are fixed in a tangible form.

On Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 12:15 AM John Gilmore via Internet-history <
internet-history at elists.isoc.org> wrote:

> It's unclear what the question means: "Who owns a document that
> explicitly allows unlimited distribution for any purpose".  Normally
> the "owner" is the copyright owner, the one who can sue people who
> violate the document's conditions on copying.  But if there are no
> conditions, then there are no targets for lawsuits, so no need for
> someone with the power to sue.
> Many of the old RFCs were written by the federal government or under
> government contracts.  The law of copyright is that the government
> itself can't own original copyright on its own work.  So, for example,
> for anyone who was a DARPA employee at the time they wrote an RFC,
> that RFC is in the public domain.  The rules for contractors are more
> complicated.  A government contractor CAN claim copyright on work that
> they did for the government; you can see how beltway bandits have bent
> the above simple rule about the public domain, for their own benefit.
> But it depends on what the contract says about who owns the resulting
> intellectual property.  I don't know where we could find copies of the
> contracts between DARPA (or other agencies like NSF later) and the
> universities, BBN, etc who wrote early RFCs.  See details of the law
> here:
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_status_of_works_by_the_federal_government_of_the_United_States
> As a separate matter, under US copyright law, if a document was
> published in the United States without a copyright notice before
> January 1, 1978, it permanently entered the public domain.  If it was
> published without a copyright notice between then and February 28,
> 1989, it would have lost its copyright protection (entered the public
> domain) unless specific steps were taken shortly thereafter.  See:
>   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_notice
> As has been pointed out numerous times, part of the reason the
> Internet protocols succeeded was that they were freely copyable by
> anyone interested in the topic, unlike the national and international
> standards committee output that the Internet standards were competing
> with.
> I recommend that the IETF Trust assert that nobody owns the RFCs
> published before March 1989, and designate a period for anyone who
> claims a copyright in an RFC published between then and 1994 to approach
> the Trust to negotiate the claim, otherwise the Trust will treat their
> RFCs as estopped from claiming copyright protection, due to the owners
> authorizing broad distribution without limitation when they were created.
>         John
> PS:  I am not a lawyer.  EFF's copyright lawyers might be happy to
> consult with the Trust, though, to help work this out.  Or you
> might ask Pam Samuelson's law clinic at UC Berkeley.
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