[linux-elitists] How is it possible to have a dual licensed Linux Distro.

Karsten M. Self karsten@linuxmafia.com
Sun Sep 2 13:12:22 PDT 2007

on Sat, Sep 01, 2007 at 02:10:17PM -0700, Nathaniel Smith (njs@pobox.com) wrote:
> On Fri, Aug 31, 2007 at 05:04:24PM -0700, Rick Moen wrote:
> > Quoting Ben Finney (ben@benfinney.id.au):
> > 
> > > Any work of creative expression recognised under copyright law 
> > > automatically has a copyright holder. A GNU/Linux distribution, if it 
> > > involves such creative expression, can thus be licensed as a whole by  
> > > its copyright holder, and can even be dual-licensed, as with any other 
> > > work.
> > > 
> > > Of course, such a distribution would be a derived work of all the 
> >              ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> > > parts that comprise it,
> >   ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^            
> > 
> > Hereby disputed.  Actually, on reflection, I'll just say "No, sir."
> > 
> > "Derivative work" as a term of art within copyright law needs to be
> > carefully distinguished from bundling without derivation (what FSF
> > likes to call "mere aggregation").  Most constituent codebases on a
> > typical Linux (GNU/Linux, whatever) distribution are highly unlikely to
> > ever be judged derivative works of each other.
> The different codebases are not derivative of each other, but the
> creator of a distribution does presumably hold a compilation
> copyright on the work as a whole, and that is the copyright I read
> Ben as referring to.  I don't really grok the details of compilation
> copyrights, though, so I'm not sure to what extent it is legally
> meaningful to talk about a compilation as being derived from the
> constituent works -- I get the impression that this is one of those
> murky corners where intuition and law make minimal little contact.

The copyright qualification in collective and compilation derives, as I
understand, from the "originality" in selecting which works are to be
included in the compilation.  A mere aggregation of facts (e.g.:  a
phone book, in the landmark Feist v. Rural Electric case) is _not_
sufficient.  Note that the protection (as with most copyright) is pretty
thin, and covers _only_ the compilation as a whole, not the individual
components of same.

    17 USC 101:

    A "collective work" is a work, such as a periodical issue,
    anthology, or encyclopedia, in which a number of contributions,
    constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are
    assembled into a collective whole.

    A "compilation" is a work formed by the collection and assembling of
    preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or
    arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole
    constitutes an original work of authorship. The term "compilation"
    includes collective works.


    17 USC  103 
    Subject matter of copyright: Compilations and derivative works

    (a) The subject matter of copyright as specified by section 102
    includes compilations and derivative works, but protection for a
    work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does
    not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been
    used unlawfully.

    (b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only
    to the material contributed by the author of such work, as
    distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work,
    and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material.
    The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or
    enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any
    copyright protection in the preexisting material.

Coming to a bookstore near you soon:  the Norton Anthology of Free


Karsten M. Self <karsten@linuxmafia.com>        http://linuxmafia.com/~karsten
    Ceterum censeo, Caldera delenda est.
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