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.


9 Replies to “Compilation Copyright Irrelevant for Kubuntu”

  1. > Compilation copyright is an idea exclusive to the US
    > (or North America anyway). It restricts collections of
    > items which otherwise have unrelated copyright restrictions

    You are technically correct that the “Compilation Copyright” is (as far as I know) limited to the US. But the countries of the European Union have other regulations that “restrict collections of items which otherwise have unrelated copyright restrictions”. I am referring to the directive No. 96/9/EC of March 11th 1996 which defines a “legal protection of databases”, i.e. rights of intellectual property on databases which are very similar with respect to the described consequences of the compilation copyright in the US. For a full text see : .

    As Wikipedia puts it in the related article: “Database rights are independent of copyright: The arrangement, selection, and presentation of the data may be protected by copyright”

    And clearly the lists of packages in a repository may already constitute such a database which is automatically protected by this law.

    1. I’m not as familiar with database restrictions as I’d like to be but it won’t apply to a hand made list of packages.

      1. > but it won’t apply to a hand made list of packages

        I disagree. See for details and obviously the directive itself.

        Manual databases (i.e. non-electronic ones) are also covered by this directive (see paragraph 14 of the preamble). And article 3 of the directive states that databases “by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents, constitute the author’s own intellectual creation” are protected too. This clearly includes a hand made list of packages as long as this involves “a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way
        and by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents, constitute the author’s own intellectual creation

        So my point stands: This whole topic is not (as claimed in the blog post) “exclusive to the US

    2. I’d like to add that at least German copyright law does indeed have an analogon to the compilation copyright, called “Sammelwerk”. It protects compilations where the compilation itself is an “personal intellectual creation” with a sufficient “level of originality”, independent of the single item’s copyright status. Databases are defined there as compilations with a systematical or methodological order. In my opinion, a compilation of packages could fulfill the former requirements, if the level of thought put into the package structure is non-trivial.
      The question remains, however, if such a compilation of gpl-ed stuff is not itself a derived work in the sense of the gpl. I’m not a lawyer, but I doubt there were already a lot of court decisions on this topic.

      Anyway, I agree with your conclusion, there is no way to be 100% safe from copyright and patent infringement claims, as there is no 100% level of safety in other areas of life, but this should not stop anyone from creating and developing.

      Thanks BTW for your great work on Kubuntu!

  2. Compilation copyright is relevant to Kubuntu. By showing you own the rights to the Kubuntu compilation, you are able to prevent others from attempting to create non-free Kubuntu derived distributions. You control its availability and the license that applies. The compilation copyright insures that you get to pick the GPL and keep it free for all.

    1. I ment irrelevant is so far as it doesn’t make any further restrictions or permissions compared to the rest of the software in the archive

  3. We don’t need all the Scotland politics constantly on PlanetKDE.

    We get it, it’s your personal opinion, but it’s not KDE related at all.

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