The Copyright Act preempts the GPL

John Cowan cowan at
Sun Feb 8 07:24:53 UTC 2004

Peter Fairbrother scripsit:

> Alan writes an original computer program. It is 3 lines long. It is called
> "Hello world".
> Bob takes Alan's program and replaces line 2. The new program is called
> "Goodbye asshole".
> "Goodbye asshole" is a derivative work.
> If Bob did not have Alan's permission to create a derivative work then he
> gets no rights at all.

So far so good.

> If Bob had Alan's permission to create a derivative work then he gets the
> sole right to distribute line 2.

He had that much even without Alan's permission, since line 2 is solely
his work.  This paragraph belongs to me, though only with your (implied)
permission can I use it in this email, which is a derivative work of
your email.  (That is assuming that my use of your email is not a fair
use, which I think it almost certainly is, but that's a different kettle
of fish).

> He does not get any right to distribute lines 1 and 3. He cannot distribute
> "Goodbye asshole" including lines 1 and 3 without separate permission from
> Alan.

Once the derivative work is lawfully created, Bob is the copyright owner,
and has all the exclusive rights of the copyright owner.

And now I'm going to shut up, because obviously we are looping, and I'm
not going to convince you nor vice versa.

"And it was said that ever after, if any                John Cowan
man looked in that Stone, unless he had a               jcowan at
great strength of will to turn it to other    
purpose, he saw only two aged hands withering 
in flame."   --"The Pyre of Denethor"
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