Basic difference between the GPL and the public domain

My last post brought a new question:


What are the key differences between GNU GPL Free software licenses and public domain software?

Public domain software allows anyone to do whatever they want with software. In short software is not subject to copyright. No person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction. See wikipedia article for more information.

GNU GPL is a copyright license. You can use and distribute software under the terms and condition of its license only.

Hope this clears the difference between GPL and public domain software.

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I'm Vivek Gite, and I write about Linux, macOS, Unix, IT, programming, infosec, and open source. Subscribe to my RSS feed or email newsletter for updates.

4 comments… add one
  • Prashanth Mohan Feb 3, 2007 @ 1:38

    So does this mean that code from the Public domain software can be used in proprietary software?

  • Binny V A Feb 3, 2007 @ 4:44

    Can you give an example for ‘public domain’ software? I am aware of works of art slipping into the public domain after some 70 years or so after they are made – but I have never heard about a public domain software.

  • 🛡️ Vivek Gite (Author and Admin) nixCraft Feb 3, 2007 @ 7:11

    See example below:

    Just search for Public domain Games or Software using Google to get list of other s/w


    You can use but you can not make the claim or show any proprietary interests. Most companies prefer to use BSD based software for proprietary use. Personally I like GPL as it gives freedom and protect my rights. BSD is also good choice.

  • Prashanth Mohan Feb 4, 2007 @ 2:35


    I still don’t get it. If your answer to my question was `Yes’, Then it seems very similar to the viral nature of GPL. If `No’ then it seems BSDLish.

    /me was never brainy enough to understand the licenses 🙁

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