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

On Mon, Oct 21, 2002 at 02:00:08PM -0500, Branden Robinson wrote:

> I think we can agree that a word list is a "compilation" of things, so we
> can apply the definition of "compilation" under Title 17, Section 101 of
> the United States Code:

I'm not so sure.  What exactly are the preexisting materials that are used
to make a wordlist?  It would be possible to make a compilation wordlist,
but I disagree that a wordlist is inherently a compilation work.

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).

> Now, let's check Section 102:
>       (b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of
>     authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method
>     of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the
>     form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied
>     in such work.

This is basically excluding patents from copyright law.  I don't see its
relevance here.

> So, even if a person tries to assert copyright in a word list, one can
> create an alternative word list of equal or greater utility by simply
> extracting terms from any of several publicly-licensed dictionaries,

Well, the "equal or greater utility" has yet to be seen :-)

> The copyright in those dictionaries -- themselves copyrighted works at
> some point -- resides in the definitions, not the defined words
> themselves, at least insofar as anything calling itself a "dictionary"
> purports to define words that are *actually already in use*.  This

Most works are probably made up of words that are actually already in use. 
It seems far-fetched to claim that there is a special exclusion in copyright
law pertaining to words in dictionaries.

> By this argument, an arrangement of unoriginal words cannot be
> copyrightable when it purports to be ordered according to a certain
> idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept,
> principle, or discovery.

I believe that the section in question states that the idea, procedure, etc.
itself is not copyrightable, but the specific text used to describe it is.

> If there is any process by which we can create a superset of the
> supposedly-copyrighted word list and subsequently prune it down to a
> duplicate, then that word list is provably non-original.

This too seems weak to me -- could you not create a process to form the text
of a novel by using the original to pick out ordered words from a
comprehensive master word list?

I'd like to say that I hope that it is the case that these are
un-copyrightable, but as of yet your arguments based on law don't seem

-- John

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