[sf-lug] need advice: GPL licensing question

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Sep 13 16:24:46 PDT 2007

Quoting jim stockford (jim at well.com):

> isn't the idea of copyright to protect an expression of an idea (not
> the idea, the expression)? 

Correct.  So, the idea of a novel where the first-person narrator 
is accused of murder but you (the reader) only gradually realise he
never told you he didn't do it cannot qualify for copyright -- and
you're perfectly free to write such a novel.  However, the moment Scott
Turow wrote _Presumed Innocent_, his particular _expression_ of that
idea became Copyright (C) 1987, Scott Turow.

If you retype a 50-page passage of _Presumed Innocent_ and attempt to
offer it to others as your own work, claiming you'd borrowed only the
_idea_ from Turow, you would lose.

Turow owns a synthetic, limited property right over some uses of the
stream of words in question, his expression of the idea.

> Can an XML file or possibly a database express an idea (e.g. XML file
> that describes a graphic image)?

Turow's novel _also_ expresses an idea.  

That is, you're missing the point.  Both Turow's stream of words and a
particular XML scheme that Catherine might create ("put in fixed form")
embodies an _expression_ of an idea.  

Expressions, within the eight areas of human endeavour covered by the
Copyright Act, provided they are substantive[1] and have creative 
(i.e., expressive) content, become automatically copyrighted at the
instant their authors put them into "fixed form".

If you're trying to argue that an XML file is "only an idea" because you
think it's somehow too intangible to be a creative expression, I think
no judge is likely to agree with you, any more than they would agree
that -- oh -- Oracle RDBMS is "only an idea".

[1] That is, something like a five-line shell script probably wouldn't
be rule to be substantive enough to have a copyright title at all, no
matter what its author might claim to the contrary.

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