FAQs About Public Domain Software and Where to Find It

Public Domain Means No Use Restrictions and No Copyright Ownership

Woman Programmer altering Open Source Computer Code
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What is Public Domain Software?

Public Domain Software (PDS) refers to software that is not copyrighted and that anyone can use for free without restrictions.

Under PDS guidelines and laws governing software development licensing the author(s) create their software with the intention of making it available in the public domain so that others can use their software in whole, in part, or in combination with other software applications without worrying about copyright restrictions.

It is important to still bear in mind that public domain software does not necessarily allow a user to access, use, or alter source codes, but in some cases, it may, but it is made available for use whether or not it can be altered.

What is Not Included in PDS?

PDS does not include product promotions of free software, 'free ware,' or 'shareware' all of which have use restrictions and copyrights.

Where to Find Public Domain Software

SourceForge offers an extensive directory of software available under a number of licenses including Public Domain, Creative Commons Attribution, OSI-Approved Open Source, and others.

Two other great resources to discovering new public domain and open-source software are:

You can also find use-specific, compatible freebies within certain dashboards of other applications.  For example, if you use WordPress, log in and look for new plugins.  Many of these have been created for free use without any restrictions.

The same is true with Firefox where you can download from the tens of thousands of available apps and support features including developer tools.

Open Source Applications Do Not not Fall Under Public Domain

The key distinction between Open Source (OS) and public domain software is not whether or not source code is accessible, but if there are any licensing requirements or other restrictions on use, altering the source code, redistribution, or copyrights.

If there are, it is Open Source software and not public domain software.

Open Source Software Resources

The U.S. Department of Defense offers a comprehensive FAQ about Open Source Software (OSS) and use while working with the federal government.  If you are thinking of using OSS or public domain software for official use, please read, FAQs Regarding Open Source Software and the Department of Defense.

Open Source Initiative, a 501(c)(3) California-based nonprofit, offers a very detailed (and legal) definition of open source software and how and who can use it.  They also have a great alphabetical listing of companies that offer open source software if you wish to investigate a particular company.

The Free Software Foundation offers a comprehensive list of free software.

A Few Examples of Open Source Software Applications

  • WordPress - A free, content management and blogging software platform.
  • Firefox  - A web browser
  • LINUX - an open-source operating system based on UNIX
  • Apache - a web server software that is now the most commonly used throughout the world.
  • Thunderbird - Developed by Mozilla Foundation (they also are responsible for the web browser, Firefox, Thunderbird offers platform for email, chat, and email.
  • OpenOffice
  • KOffice - integrated office suite that includes wordpressing, spreadsheet, database functions and more, and
  • SquirrelMail - An email handler anyone can use and is often offered (free) by email host company such as Dreamhost.

How Can I Tell if Something is Under Public Domain?

If there are absolutely no restrictions or copyrights on software applications, it is considered public domain software.

Exciting Statistics for Female Computer Programmers - The Tables are Turning

In 1944 there were only six female computer programmers, of course there were not many male programmers either.  However, women have frequently been discouraged from entering into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) so as computer technology became more widely used, the ratio of male to female computer programmers and software developers remained troubling.

However, thanks to White House driven initiatives, and According to the National Center for Women Information Technology, women now account for 34% of web developers; 23% of programmers; 37% of database administrators; 20% of software developers; and 15% of information security analysts. (Source: Department of Labor Current Population Survey, 2012)

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