Copyfree: policy > public

Copyfree is not quite the public domain.

The legal concept of the public domain is to copyright as the mathematical concept of zero is to numbers. In the words of the US Copyright Office - Definitions (FAQ), as of this writing:

Where is the public domain?

The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the "public domain" if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.

Public domain works are considered to be consistent with copyfree policy, and as such clear public domain dedications (with or without a license fallback for cases of public domain dedications being considered to have no legal force) are, in and of themselves, considered to comply with the Copyfree Standard Definition.

Some may find a few license characteristics valuable enough to choose a copyfree license rather than the public domain. Among them are:

If these were the only concerns related to using a license rather than the public domain, however, the Copyfree Initiative would never have been founded. Two key reasons to choose a copyfree license over the public domain are:

United States Public Domain Dedication

In the United States, it is traditionally assumed that the author of a work can dedicate that work to the public domain, relinquishing any copyright claims to that work. Some do not consider this a convention sufficiently established by court precedent to be relied upon by those who wish to feel safe in the use of public domain works. The US Copyright Office's definitions FAQ page is quite vague on the matter, and the very first FAQ on the page might be interpreted to suggest that public domain dedication is not possible for private entities:

Who is an author?

Under the copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author is also the owner of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author. See Circular 9, Work-Made-For-Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act.

Provision is identified here for an author assigning copyright to another entity, but not for dedication to the public domain -- simply relinquishing, rather than transfering, copyright. More nuanced legal analyses are generally incomplete and/or contradictory on this subject. Public domain dedication in the United States tends to "work" in practice because the author attempting to dedicate the work to the public domain is not likely to pursue legal action against someone who uses the work as though it were in the public domain, but the question of whether it is actually a public domain work is still largely unanswered. If it is not, the author's heirs may assert copyright protections in the future, or the author might if he or she has a change of heart. Furthermore, any copyright the author of a derivative work might think he or she can claim over that derivative work might be null and void, leading to other unexpected legal problems that are too complex to address here at this time.