Compilation Copyright Irrelevant for Kubuntu

Joel Leclerc’s recent post The importance of freedom in software reminds us that the reason we contribute to projects like Ubuntu is that they it is made for sharing. Use it, modify it, improve it, share it. Anywhere, any time and with any number of people all over the world. No licence required.  Take that away and you take away the reason for people to contribute.

Recent comments by a CC member that our ability to modify, improve and share it might be restricted by compilation copyright are a dangerous threat to our community.  It’s the sort of thing the Community Council should be there do take a stand against, but alas no.

Compilation Copyright?

Compilation copyright is an idea exclusive to the US (or North America anyway).  It restricts collections of items which otherwise have unrelated copyright restrictions.  A classic example is a book collection of poetry where the poems are all out of copyright but the selection and ordering of poems is new and has copyright owned by whoever did it.

It’s completely irrelevant outside the US where most of the world is located but we like to look after everyone so what’s the situation for people in the US?

Kubuntu images are made from lists of packages in seed files which get made into meta packages.  You could indeed argue that this meta package is subject to compilation copyright, I couldn’t find any case law on it so I suspect it’s entirely undefined.  The good news is the meta package has always been GPL 2 licenced so voila, no copyright restrictions beyond the norms of free software.

The seed respoitory has curiously lacked a licence until I added the GPL the other day.  It has a number of copyright holders primarily me (from before and after I worked for Canonical) and Canonical (from when I did).  Anything on Launchpad has to be free software so we could say the same applies here but more reliably the seed isn’t what’s distributed on the images, the meta package is.

And of course it’s easy to replicate, the list of packages is just those that come from KDE for the most part so you can argue any compilation copyright is KDE’s, which in the case of Plasma is me again as release dude.  And I pick GPL.

And in case anyone is getting confused, this has nothing to do with GCC style compilers, running some code through a compiler makes no difference whatsoever to what copyrights apply to it and nobody has ever seriously said anything different unless they’re trying to muddy the waters.  I recently had Mark Shuttleworth say that of course you could copy individual binaries from Ubuntu.

But but… you’re not a lawyer

It’s too complex for you…you’re too small and too wee and you need those weapons of mass destruction to prevent terrorism… was the self-deprecating argument the unionist politicians came up with for voting no to Scottish independence.  It worked too, for now, amazing.

Similarly I’m amazed at how otherwise very intelligent free software geeks look down on their ability to understand copyright and other laws.  If we took this attitude to coding I’d never have started contributing to KDE and I’d never learn what real coding is like.  If you want to know about an area of law it’s the same as coding, you read some textbooks, read some acts of parliament, read some EU directives, read some case law and come up with a decision.  It’s exactly what judges do when they make a decision, no different.

Based on the above I have maintained the KDE licence policy and reviewed thousands of packages into the Ubuntu archives. So I feel equally competent to make the obvious declaration that compilation copyright has no relevant to Kubuntu because we freely licence the meta package.  Remember geeks you are strong and free, don’t let anyone talk you down with unspecified scaremongering like “things get even more complicated” if they can’t say what makes it complicated then you can safely ignore it.

 

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