How To Break The GPL

John Cowan cowan at
Mon Mar 6 00:13:06 UTC 2000

Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M. scripsit:

> Under the law of copyright, a derivative work is an original work of
> authorship based on a pre-existing work.

What we have here is analogous to the following:  Trent writes an article
which he copyrights.  He then grants to the public (i.e. anyone) the
right to make derivative works of the article under certain conditions X.
Alice wishes to sell to Bob a derivative work based on Trent's article.
Instead of sending him a marked-up copy, she tells him to get Trent's
article himself and then mark it up according to her instructions.
Alice copyrights her instructions with a restrictive copyright.
Bob's action in marking up Trent's article does not violate conditions X.

> If Trent had written a book in
> English and Alice translated the book into French, her book would be a
> derivative work. Hence, she would have infringed Trent's work unless she had
> a license. If Alice created software that allowed Bob to translate Trent's
> book without permission, then Bob and Alice would both be infringers (Alice
> would be a contributory infringer). The rub is that the GPL permits the
> creation of derivative works.

Just so.  Bob has created a work on his own system which derives from both
Alice's (under license from Alice) and Trent's (under the GPL).  As long
as he does not distribute the work, Trent has no case.

John Cowan                                   cowan at
       I am a member of a civilization. --David Brin

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