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Re: GPL and command-line libraries

Anthony DeRobertis <anthony@derobert.net> writes:

> Brian Thomas Sniffen wrote:
>> Compare, for example, a painting.  If I make a painting with a 5' by
>> 3' hole in it, that is not derivative of Starry Night.
>> Even if I paint in complementary art such that if you put SN in
>> there,
>> it looks nice, that's probably not derivative.  But if I bolt the two
>> paintings together, and ship copies of the whole thing, then
>> a) I'm shipping Starry Night, so its copyright holder gets a say.
>> b) the bolts aren't a creative work
>> c) This clearly isn't "mere aggregation"
>> So whether or not it's a derivative work, in the sense of any
>> nation's
>> copyright laws, doesn't really matter.
> But in the case of the DFSG and the GPL it does. Saying "You may not
> distribute this work along with a frame designed to hold it" violates
> DFSG 1.

But saying "You may only distribute this work with a frame designed to
hold it if that frame is freely distributed" is Free.

> And the GPL does not attempt to cover the frame; the GPL explicitly
> defines a "work based on the Program" as "either the Program or any
> derivative work under copyright law."

And it further clarifies *that* to be "a work containing the Program
or a portion of it, either verbatim or with modifications".  So if you
ld or tar some programs together, you now have a work containing the
Program verbatim.  

I would *almost* say you're right.  It seems very close.  Your
argument is persuasive.  But there is an assumption you're making
which you haven't made explicit: that any combination of two works is
either a derivative work, involving creative addition, or else is mere
aggregation.  This is the fallacy of the excluded middle.

Some works are neither derivative works nor mere aggregation; they
might be functional combinations, for example.  Or they might be
anthologies, in which creative effort has been expended in the
selection of works.  ld can be used to create mere aggregations.  It
can also be used to create functional combinations, and is usually
used in this way.  tar can be used in either way as well.  If I tar up
Emacs and a bunch of its elisp files, certainly that's not mere


Brian Sniffen                                       bts@alum.mit.edu

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