Limits of Licenses

John Cowan jcowan at
Mon Mar 27 15:24:53 UTC 2000

David Johnson wrote:

> If copyright law does not give you rights A, B and C, then you do not
> have them unless the copyright holder gives them to you.

Nope.  It goes like this:

	1) You have bought or acquired for free a certain thing.

	2) That gives you the ordinary rights of an owner (lots of rights),

	3) ... except for the rights withheld by the Copyright Act;
	   you can't copy, distribute, publicly perform or display,
	   or make derivative works,

	4) ... unless the copyright holder gives you some or all
	   of those rights, conditionally or unconditionally.

>  And I don't care what the judges
> say, tearing off some plastic shrink wrap doesn't count as an agreement.

Up till now, the judges mostly agreed with you.  UCITA is designed to
change that.

There is no single overt act that counts as agreeing: agreement is partly judged
by what ordinary people do in ordinary circumstances.  Sometimes it requires
a signature, sometimes not.  For example, when you drop you car off at the
garage for repairs, you have agreed to pay for them; if you don't, the mechanic
can keep your car until you do (called a "mechanic's lien").

> You don't buy paperback books with licenses on their inside covers that
> say "you agree not to lend this to your friend",

There could be no such license under copyright law, of course, since lending
out your copy (or selling it) is an ordinary part of the dominion of the owner of
the book, not the copyright owner.


Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis um dies! || John Cowan <jcowan at>
Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau,  ||
Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau,           ||
Und trank die Milch vom Paradies.            -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)

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