Derivative/collective works and OSL

John Cowan jcowan at
Mon Feb 7 21:07:43 UTC 2005

Chuck Swiger scripsit:

> However, there exists a branch of software engineering known as compiler 
> design, and there exist experts in that field who have written working 
> compilers who share a common understanding of how a compiler toolchain 
> operates: compilers perform a mechanical, deterministic, and reversible 
> transformation on source code to produce object code.
> By definition, this transformation does not change the semantic meaning of 
> the program and does not involve human decision-making or any possibility 
> of creativity. [1]

Your argument proves too much: making a print from an oil painting is "art
reproduction", and is just as mechanical as compiling: yet by statute it is
making a derivative work, not just copying.

> [ A classic example from NLP was: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is 
> weak." became "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten." ]

This story is apocryphal.

> A tarball of a single work is an archive containing a single work, not a 
> collective work.  A tarball of two seperate works is an archive of two 
> seperate works, which is a simple aggregation and not a collective work. [2]

I should have said that some tarballs are collective works, specifically those
whose components are not all by the same author.  They are closely comparable
to anthologies of articles or short fiction or poems; there is an art to
choosing what goes in and what is left out, and the chooser has a "compilation
copyright", but that copyright is rather thin: it extends to none of the
underlying works, but only to the principles of selection and arrangement
(arrangement is unimportant for tarballs).

> Is a photocopy of a document considered a derived work, or is it considered 
> to be the same thing as the original work for practical and legal purposes?

It's a copy, not a derivative work.

John Cowan   jcowan at
    "Mr. Lane, if you ever wish anything that I can do, all you will have
        to do will be to send me a telegram asking and it will be done."
    "Mr. Hearst, if you ever get a telegram from me asking you to do
        anything, you can put the telegram down as a forgery."

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