"Derivative Work" for Software Defined

PETERSON,SCOTT K (HP-USA,ex1) scott.k.peterson at hp.com
Wed Jan 15 17:45:43 UTC 2003

Someone has brought to my attention a scenario that may help to illustrate
what I've been talking about. So, I'm going to try few more letters of the

Assume that there is a standard API defined in a spec.
One author writes an application G that conforms to that spec (using the
API; I think of this as sitting on top of the API) and offers this under the
A second author writes a library H that conforms to that spec (implementing
the API; I think of this as sitting under the API) and offers this under a
GPL-incompatible license. 
Assume that G and H were wholly unaware of each other's work. Thus, G is not
a derivative work of H and H is not a derivative work of G.
Assume that someone statically links object modules compiled from G and
object modules compiled from H into a single executable file (call this
executable file G+H).

I believe that there is wide agreement that the GPL is interpreted such that
the author of G has not given permission for distribution of that single
executable file. (I also believe there is less widespread agreement on the
alternative where the linking occurs at runtime.)

H is not a derivative work of G. So, how does one get to this widely agreed
result? I believe that that interpretation assumes that G+H is a "work based
on the Program". So, it looks to me like it is generally agreed that the GPL
does indeed concern itself with whether G and H are parts of something
larger (not necessarily every larger thing, but at least some sorts of
larger things). Thus, it seems that stopping analysis at the point of
determining that H is not a derivative of G is failing to complete the
analysis needed to judge compliance with the GPL. 

Subtleties abound. So, I may very well be missing something. If so, I'm
hoping that someone on this list can set me straight.

-- Scott
Scott K. Peterson
Corporate Counsel
Hewlett-Packard Company
One Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
scott.k.peterson at hp.com
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