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I'm writing a translation assist & dictionary-like software to assist in translating Japanese to English. To help with this, dictionary datasets in XML format by Electronic Dictionary Research and Development Group would be immensely helpful, but they happen to be licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Licence (V4.0). They have their licensing directly available here.

I have no qualms about properly crediting the incredible work of the group, but if possible, I'd like to license my software under another license, possibly a more software-oriented open source license like MIT, but my question here is to what degree can I couple my software to these datasets before it is considered derivative and must also be published under CC BY-SA?

  1. Am I correct in assuming that if I were to directly include these files in the distribution of my software, still as separate files, this would force the software too under CC BY-SA?
  2. If I were to not distribute the files bundled with my software but instead instructed potential users to go download these files from the original source to use them with my software make a difference?
  3. Does the fact that my software would contain code specifically targeted to making use of these files (i.e. parsing the specific XML scheme found in them) make it a derivative regardless?

While I wouldn't necessarily need to include any of the copyrighted data and you could argue that something like importing data from an XML file is generic enough that it could be used with any similar data set, I'm not aware of any other projects that'd use the exact same scheme, meaning if my software is specifically built to read data in this scheme, the connection to the data is rather obvious. In other words, does writing code that imports data in a specific XML scheme constitute a derivative work of the data which first introduced that scheme?

Further confusing the matter, the license page for the data also mentions:

Note also that provided the conditions above [namely, CC BY-SA V4.0] are met, there is NO restriction placed on commercial use of the files. The files can be bundled with software and sold for whatever the developer wants to charge. Software using these files does not have to be under any form of open-source licence.

CC is considered an open source license, right? Does this part mean that even were the data to be distributed with any software, the software itself need not me under "any form of open-source license", i.e. CC itself? This seems rather contradictory.

What is my best option to enable use of this data with my software while ideally maintaining freedom of choosing the software's license myself, if any?

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  • "CC is considered an open source license, right?" - Not exactly. See opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical. Open Source licenses are intended to be used with source code to computer programs (and the related binaries). Creative Commons licenses are intended to be used with any other kind of creative work (i.e. "data"), like writings, documents, paintings, sound recordings, etc. So I think it's best to think of CC as a separate category from Open Source, although some of the goals are the same (e.g. CC allows sharing the content, but places some requirements on you when you do that).
    – Brandin
    Jan 13, 2023 at 11:56
  • Considering the legal hazard this license produces to both me making the software and the end user using it to translate text, I will try to contact the original author and ask for a version under a more permissive license, or failing that, simply scrap the project.
    – Kryomaani
    Jan 13, 2023 at 18:05

1 Answer 1

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Am I correct in assuming that if I were to directly include these files in the distribution of my software, still as separate files, this would force the software too under CC BY-SA?

I don't see why. Your software isn't derived from the creative content of those files, it just supports their format.

If I were to not distribute the files bundled with my software but instead instructed potential users to go download these files from the original source to use them with my software make a difference?

No. Either your work is derived from those XML files or it isn't. How you distribute it doesn't matter.

Does the fact that my software would contain code specifically targeted to making use of these files (i.e. parsing the specific XML scheme found in them) make it a derivative regardless?

That would probably be the strongest argument that it's a derivative. Assuming this XML format is widely used in other works, then you have a very strong argument that you aren't derived from those files, you just use the same format that they do. If that XML format is exclusive to those files and is creative and not purely functional, then the argument probably goes the other way.

From the quick research I was able to do, it appears the format is covered by the license and not available by any other means. And, at least by my non-expert judgment, does seem that the format contains significant creative choices.

You could, however:

  1. Develop your own format taking only function from their format.
  2. Offer your format under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license.
  3. Make your software use your format and license it however you want.
  4. Make a tool to convert their format to your format and place the tool under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license.
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  • Thanks, in that case I'll have to reconsider whether I go forward with this project at all. The viral SA-clause on the data places significant legal hazard on its use and would severely hamper it's use, for example by making it impossiple to use any GPL code in the software due to two conflicting viral licenses, or being unable to introduce it in any organizations that place demands on the licensing of software used. Getting my software infected by CC BY-SA is particularly nasty since it lacks any software specific provisions like LGPL has, and as such, it seems more like wasted effort to me.
    – Kryomaani
    Jan 13, 2023 at 4:03
  • @Kryomaani, Based on the material you quoted, especially the part about software being able to read the file format not needing to be open-source, makes me believe that the EDRDG does not consider the structure of the file to be covered by the CC BY-SA license or at the least that they won't come after you for being able to read the files with software that has a different license. Jan 13, 2023 at 10:22
  • David, would you please share the your research which leads you to say that reading an XML database, and by reading it understanding the scheme of the data structure, would lead to infringement of copyright or database rights? I think that this would only be relevant if you copy the scheme and use it for a new database . Jan 13, 2023 at 13:45
  • @Martin_in_AUT What's the difference between copying the scheme and using it in a new database and copying the scheme as using it in code to read the scheme? Either the scheme contains sufficient protectable expression to violate copyright or it doesn't and in both cases, you're using all of the scheme, aren't you? In both cases, you'd be using the tag names. Apparently, however, it looks like judges in most countries have leaned strongly against extending copyright protection to file formats, considering them primarily function rather than expressive. Jan 13, 2023 at 19:42
  • @DavidSchwartz Fixtures Marketing Ltd v OPAP shows that an XML schema is protected by copyright, but is not protected as a sui generis database. At least in Europe. So you can't freely copy the scheme (without license) into a new database, but you can read it without problem. If you have more questions about database protection I suggest you ask at Law SE Jan 14, 2023 at 11:45

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