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Re: GNU Free Database License

From: Richard Tobin
Subject: Re: GNU Free Database License
Date: 17 Sep 2006 13:06:28 GMT

In article <>,
Alfred M. Szmidt <> wrote:

>Well, a photo isn't a "fact", while a dictionary is a list of facts
>(definitins).  And you cannot copyright a fact (or has this been
>changed recently?), like the fact that "hello is a common greeting
>used in the English language".  What you can copyright is the
>presentation of said fact.

[Saying "you can copyright something" doesn't make much sense nowadays;
a work is automatically subject to copyright as soon as it is made.]

The usual term is *expression*, not presentation.  "Expression"
includes the words you use, "presentation" might suggest that it's
confined to layout or something like that.

>So a dictionary is copyrighted, but only
>in the sense of how it presents its "facts".

Such as the way it expresses the definitions.

Now it might well be judged that there's not much scope for creativity
in the definition of a single word - though that varies a lot; it's
often quite difficult to construct a concise definition that captures
the difference between one word and another - but the sum total of the
definitions in a dictionary certainly amounts to a lot of creativity.
If you had the same definition of "hello" as the OED:

   An exclamation to call attention; also expressing some degree of
   surprise, as on meeting any one unexpectedly.

you might get away with it even though the chance of you choosing that
exact definition is negligible, but having the same definition for
*all* the words would be quite another matter.

>Much like you can
>copyright the presentation of phonebook, e.g. using some specialised
>layout.  But you cannot copyright the name + number in that phone
>book, since that is considered a `fact'.

The difference in creativity between giving a phone number and giving
a definition seems so obvious that I can't really understand why you
equate them.

By the way, the phone directory *is* subject to copyright in some
countries (such as the UK), absurd though that is.

-- Richard

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