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Re: GPL traitor !


From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: GPL traitor !
Date: Thu, 14 May 2009 20:59:52 +0000 (UTC)
User-agent: tin/1.6.2-20030910 ("Pabbay") (UNIX) (FreeBSD/4.11-RELEASE (i386))

In gnu.misc.discuss Hyman Rosen <address@hidden> wrote:
> Alan Mackenzie wrote:
>> In gnu.misc.discuss Hyman Rosen <address@hidden> wrote:
>>> Alan Mackenzie wrote:
>>>> Does copyright law have any notion of "a complete program"?  ;-)

>>> No. Copyright law has the notion of a collective work, which is
>>>     <http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf>
>>>     a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology, or encyclopedia,
>>>     in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and
>>>     independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective
>>>     whole.

> The law's definition of a computer program is
>     A ?computer program? is a set of statements or instructions to be
>     used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about
>     a certain result.

> This definition does not contain any notion of completeness, that is,
> that the computer program must be able to perform its function without
> the assistance of other computer programs.

I disagree.  It says "a set" of instructions which gets the certain
result.  That implies that it includes the other programs and all the
bits of the operating system and BIOS it uses, otherwise that set
couldn't bring about any result, no matter how uncertain.  Which is kind
of ridiculous.

Or you might say that the "set" of instructions, although used to bring
about the result, needn't achieve it on its own, much as you use a knive
to make lunch.  Well now the problem is that an arbitrarily small
fragment of the whole program, even just a single machine instruction,
counts as "a set" of instructions, hence is, legally, "a program".  This
is even more ridiculous.

Which goes to show that lawyers cant rigorously pin down technical
concepts any better than technologists can, and that you've got to use
plain common sense in reading the definitions, which aren't and can't
be 100% complete and rigorous.

>> Ah, it's context-snipping time, is it?  Let me put the context back
>> again for you:

>> [Hyman Rosen]:
>>>> "Mere aggregation" is the placing of multiple separate programs onto a
>>>> single medium for convenience in distribution. It is not the linking
>>>> together of multiple components into a single binary file to form a
>>>> complete program.

>> In the above paragraph, you have used the notion of a "complete program"
>> to distinguish it from a "mere aggregation".  I agree with you here.
>> Yet a bit higher up, you answered "No" to the legal existence of a
>> "complete program".

> Correct. By "complete program" in this context I meant a single file that
> is "ready-to-run" given the appropriate computer and operating system.

I can't accept that.  Programs are frequently several files, a main
program together with dynamic libraries, which form an integrated whole,
i.e. each of the files is non-functional except when linked with all the
others.

> It is not a legal term, just a conventional one.

OK, I can accept that.  Now what is the equivalent legal term for
"complete program"?  I put it to you that it's "program".

> In legal terms, it [a "complete program"] is a collective work:
>     A "collective work" is a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology,
>     or encyclopedia, in which a number of contributions, constituting
>     separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a
>     collective whole.

Surely not.  A complete program, a smallish one, could easily just be a
single source file written by a single hacker over a weekend.  Or are you
going to tell me that the "number of contributions" can be one?  That's
absurd too, because then every work would be, in legal terms, a
collective one, rendering the term "collective work" equivalent to
"work", and hence redundant.

The essential thing about a complete program is that, of itself, it
works when loaded onto computer, regardless of the nature of
contributions to it.  That's not rigorous, and no definition can be
rigorous.

> If you like, recast my paragraph above as
>     "Mere aggregation" is the placing of multiple separate programs onto a
>     single medium for convenience in distribution. It is not the linking
>     together of multiple components into a single binary file to form a
>     collective work.

OK.  So in your view, if on an otherwise empty CD-Rom you put the GCC
and the new code generator together, is that a "mere aggregation"?
Surely it must be a collective work, since these two pieces consitute a
"collective whole", as just described above.

>> You seem to be being inconsistent, here.  Would you care to resolve this
>> inconsistency?  Does copyright law recognise the concept of a "complete
>> program" or doesn't it, or is it a bit squidgy?

> I trust I have explained this to your satisfaction?

:-)

-- 
Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).



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