Open Source & Derivative Works
WordPress & the GPL
ProCD v. Zeidenberg
USL v. BSDi
Shrink Wrap License
MS Community License
MS Permissive License
Public domain refers to those works (including software) where there is no copyright or proprietary interest in the work, either because the copyright has expired, because of the operation of law, or because the rights holder(s) chose to place their work into the public domain (the last of which may not be possible in some jurisdictions). As a result of being in the public domain, there are very few if any restrictions on how the work may be used or distributed by others.
For authors who wish to allow free use of their works, an alternative to placing them in the public domain is to use a permissive license. This allows very broad usage of the work while allowing the copyright-holder to include a disclaimer of warranties and require attribution if he wishes.
Please note that even if something does not contain a copyright notice, you can not simply assume it is public domain. In most countries, it is not necessary for something to contain a copyright notice in order to be copyrighted. In the United States, a copyright notice has not been necessary since the 1976 Copyright Act took effect.
Please also note that the phrase "public domain" is also sometimes used, generally informally (but even in some court cases) to refer to works or information that is public knowledge and/or widely available. When used in this manner, the phrase does not mean that no copyrights or other proprietary interests apply.
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