[sword-devel] Question about Public Domain

Chris Little chrislit at crosswire.org
Wed Mar 18 01:10:32 MST 2009

Matthew Talbert wrote:
>> That doesn't mean it is the sole property of CrossWire, but it does mean that copyright is jointly held between CrossWire and the front end author(s). >Disagree? Ask licensing at fsf.org.
> Did you really mean to say copyright here? It is my understanding,
> reinforced by http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0-faq.html#AssignCopyright,
> that the authors of any code, whether patches to the engine, front-end
> code, or whatever, automatically are granted copyright of that code.
> As such, unless these authors explicitly grant CrossWire copyright,
> CrossWire does not even hold the copyright to changes made to the
> engine, much less the front-ends.

Yes, I meant copyright here. And I'm not disagreeing at all with the 
text of the FAQ there. The act of creating any creative work (e.g. code) 
automatically grants the author copyright to it. The FAQ is talking 
about assigning code to the FSF exclusively, and they're talking about 
(at least potentially) novel creations, not derivative of work already 
owned by the FSF.

This is all simply copyright law pertaining to derivative works. If Work 
B produced by Author B is a derivative work of Work A produced by Author 
A, then Author A has sole copyright on Work A and Authors A & B have 
joint copyright on Work B.

To make this concrete: I have a copy of The Hobbit in English. Tolkien 
assigned his copyright to his publisher, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. The 
publisher in this case, holds sole copyright on the text. I also have a 
copy of The Hobbit translated into German by Walter Scherf. Shref, 
likewise assigned his copyright to his publisher, Deutscher Tashenbuch 
Verlag, GmbH. The copyright of the German translation is therefore 
jointly owned by both publishers, and the copyright page accordingly 
lists both publishers copyrights.

In the case of Sword: Copyright of Sword is the sole possession of 
CrossWire (exclusive of 3rd party code incorporated into the library, 
like regex.c, owned by FSF). (We ask all library code contributors (i.e. 
patch submitters) to assign copyright to CrossWire.) And front ends that 
use Sword have copyright jointly owned by their authors and CrossWire.

Provided that all Sword-derived code were removed from a front end (by 
removing all code from Sword and calls to Sword functions), CrossWire 
would have no copyright over the result. Providing there were no other 
GPL dependencies, the authors of this code would be free to release it 
in any fashion he liked, from PD to closed commercial licenses.

It's really all just copyright law.


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