Crafting a special kind of license for a very special standard.

Arnoud Engelfriet arnoud at
Sun Apr 15 09:32:10 UTC 2007

David Woolley wrote:
> Matthew Flaschen wrote:
> >An implementation of a standard is not derived from the standard in the
> >copyright law sense.  Thus, even if you GPLed the standard, proprietary
> >software could still implement it.
> If it were ruled to be the case, it would largely kill open source
> software, as, especially for standards from consortia, e.g. W3C,
> it could make it impossible to implement interworkable open source
> programs.  

Care to elaborate?

A standard is a document that specifies an interface. If I write my
own implementation, I am free to license my implementation however
I want. You can do the same. There is nothing special in this regard
about choosing the GPL or a highly protective proprietary license.

The standard itself is a copyrighted document, and so needs to have
a copyright license. If you use the GPL, that's fine, and you can
insist that any derivative implementation should also be made GPL
(if published). But if I can create an original, i.e. non-derivative
implementation, I do not need to obey the GPL for my implementation.

> >implementation",  "Java-compatible", and get away with it.  This is
> >actually a really good example, because the Java standard and API is
> >copyrighted, but Sun couldn't sue unauthorized implementors for
> >copyright infringement.
> I seem to remember that, like Adobe and PostScript, Sun claim copyright 
> on the Java keywords, but then grant an open licence to use them in 
> valid implementations.  Most assembly languages claim copyrights on the 
> instruction mnemonics.

Claiming copyright and actually having a copyright are two
very separate things. 

What happens in many cases is that you simply don't get a copy of
the standard unless you sign a heavy-handed contract that specifies
exactly what you are allowed to do. And once you go the contract route,
the copyright or patent status of the techniques or descriptions
becomes completely irrelevant.


Arnoud Engelfriet, Dutch & European patent attorney - Speaking only for myself
Patents, copyright and IPR explained for techies:

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