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Programmer Admits Stealing US Gov't Accounting Software Source Code 125

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from "A Chinese computer programmer that was charged with stealing the source code of software developed by the U.S. Treasury Department pleaded guilty to the charge on Tuesday. The 33-year-old Bo Zhang, legally employed by a U.S. consulting firm contracted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, admitted that he took advantage of the access he had to the Government-wide Accounting and Reporting Program (GWA) in order to copy the code onto an external hard disk and take it home." Just such things make me think that the default setting for software created with public money should be released with source code anyhow, barring context-specific reasons that it shouldn't be.
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Programmer Admits Stealing US Gov't Accounting Software Source Code

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  • Re:newsflash (Score:5, Informative)

    by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @11:19AM (#40167043)

    That's making the false assumption that "physical property" and "intellectual property" are the same thing. Hint: they are not.

    Any work of the United States government, or an employee of such working on government time, is automatically in the public domain. Everything from NASA photographs to recordings of the Marine Corps Band to every boring office memo are public domain. I don't see why that should not apply to program code.

    Note also that "classified" and "public domain" are separate things - technically, even the ultra-top-secret "list of nuclear launch codes" is public domain, in that no one can claim copyright or trademark on it. So the "fire ze missiles" program can be (and probably should be) classified. But the accounting programs?

  • by dwheeler ( 321049 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @11:54AM (#40167741) Homepage Journal

    Not quite. It's true that a work of a U.S. federal government employee, performed as part of their official duties, cannot normally have copyright in the U.S. HOWEVER... most software developed for the government is developed by contractors, at least in part, and those parts DO have a copyright. (There are even a few exceptions for government employees, but they practically never apply.) Also, the term "public domain" has multiple meanings, presumably you mean public domain in the copyright sense (not the export control sense, which is different).

    To see when contractors or the U.S. government can currently release software as OSS, see Publicly Releasing Open Source Software Developed for the U.S. Government by David A. Wheeler (me), Journal of Software Technology, February 2011 []. That's the current state of affairs.

    I agree with the poster above: When "we the people" pay for software, then by default "we the people" should get it. I even posted an entry about that in 2010 []. Sure, there need to be exceptions, but they should be exceptions; it's not obvious why accounting software developed by the government is treated this way! I also agree that we should use clearer terms like intellectual rights (and intellectual works) - not "intellectual property" [] - because "intellectual property" is a fundamentally misleading term.

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry