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Re: [aspell-devel] Problems with aspell-en license

From: John Goerzen
Subject: Re: [aspell-devel] Problems with aspell-en license
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2002 08:40:37 -0500
User-agent: Mutt/1.4i

On Mon, Oct 21, 2002 at 03:47:55PM -0500, Branden Robinson wrote:

> > For example: a dictionary could be a non-compilation work if it's prepared
> > from scratch (ie, Webster's 1913 would probably fit here) or it could be a
> > compilation work if it includes definitions from several other sources
> > (Wordnet, gcide).


> "A ''compilation'' is a work...arranged in such a way that the resulting
> work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship."
> Is "original" completely meaningless?

No, I am merely saying that you have not proven your implied premise that
"all wordlists are created by extraction from dictionaries."  I am saying
that it is possible for someone to create a wordlist from scratch, as a new
original work based on original research, rather than as a derivitive from a

> What is "original" about piping the contents of 5 different dictionaries
> throough the moral equivalent of "awk {print $1}"?

Perhaps nothing; but in any case, I maintain that the equivalent of "awk
{print $1}" is not the only way to create a wordlist.

> If so, how can we tell Mr. Smith's "original" derivative work created by
> piping web1913 through awk from Mr. Jones's "original" derivative work
> created by piping web1913 through awk?  If one cannot tell the
> difference, what does it mean to be "original"?
> This is why it is patent nonsense to assert copyright in word lists.

But your conclusion is based on the premise that the only way to create a
wordlist is by derivation from a dictionary (or some similar work).  I still
don't buy that.

[ large snippage about automated generation ]

(I'd like to see a response to the above, because at this point, the snipped
portions seem more of the same)

> Coincidence, automated generation, and independent innovation are all
> evidence that a given expression is unoriginal.  This is a point that
> seems to be completely lost on most pundits today.  "First past the

More importantly, it may be lost on most *courts* today.  If that is the
case, then your analysis, while possibly correct, may be irrelevant anyway.

While we're at it, we should also consider international copyright laws and
treaties; they may have bearing on the situation as well.  I do not know
what they are, though.

> Asserting copyright in alphabetically-sorted lists of common English
> words -- or common words in any language -- is patently absurd, and
> anyone who does so is either a scoundrel or a fool.

What about uncommon words?  Words from ancient Greek?  Nordic words?  If one
is copyrightable, why not common English words?  What if, say, Oxford comes
up with a list of common English words 5 times larger than the existing

Copyright law does not distinguish based on quality or usefulness.

Now here's the other point.  Let's take your originality argument and expand
upon it a bit.  Let's say that you generated a wordlist by your awk method
that was substantially similar to an existing wordlist we consider
authoritative.  Your wordlist would therefore by uncopyrightable.  However,
the first wordlist may well still be copyrightable.  In fact, it may have
been created well before automated processes even existed -- 50 years after
the author's death could extend well before the digital computer era.  Your
wordlist could be considered (possibly incorrectly) infringing on the
first one.  And there would be no reason to suppose that the first one was
not original.

-- John

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