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Over in Is code made from the documentation a derivative work it was asked if code made from licensed documentation constitutes derivative works, and thus license restrictions. It seems the answer is mostly no, with the detail of if one copies an example from the documentation and modifies it.

Your invocation of the ansible copy module would only be a derived work of the documentation if you actually copied an example from the documentation and modified that

@Bart van Ingen Schenau

Using the ansible example, I deliberately copy out of the ansible documentation all the time, the ansible creators know what they're doing, anything I try to recreate would be worse. As such I do things like (as in @carpeting_sales_rep 's question):

- name: Copy file with owner and permissions
  copy:
    src: /srv/myfiles/foo.conf
    dest: /etc/foo.conf
    owner: foo
    group: foo
    mode: '0644'

I would paste it right into my editor (out of the examples section of the ansible docs), and start editing it, ending up with:

- name: Put in the dog photo
  copy:
    src: dogphotos/dog.png
    dest: /var/www/html/dog.png
    owner: dog
    group: husky

What is the difference between copying and modifying the documentation, and referencing the documentation to make a piece of software? Would the above be a derivative, because I literally copied it and modified it?

  • 1
    It seems that the only remaining elements are the keywords "name:", "copy:" and so on. And these are already required elements for the code to work. Your example would be like copy/pasting an email and then deleting everything except for the line "Dear ..." and the "Sincerely" at the bottom. I.e. they are common elements that appear in many letters/emails and not entitled to copyright protection. – Brandin Jan 1 at 23:04
  • @Brandin please consider writing this up as an answer. It might not be the finally-accepted one, I can't speak for the OP, but it's definitely a good interim statement on the subject. It'd be even better with a reference or two! – MadHatter Jan 2 at 9:41
3

Using a piece of documentation in order to write your own program does not generally produce a derivative work. A derivative work would mean that you copied or transformed copyrightable portions of the source material in a manner that would require permission. Keep in mind that copyright only protects the particular expression of an idea. The idea itself is not copyrightable. So let's take a look at your example. Suppose this example appears in the documentation:

- name: Put in the dog photo
  copy:
    src: dogphotos/dog.png
    dest: /var/www/html/dog.png
    owner: dog
    group: husky

The idea of this is "a script to copy a file." Anyone is free to write his own script that copies a file. No one can own that idea. Additionally, elements which are strictly necessary to do this are not protected by copyright, so let's remove the elements which are not strictly necessary:

- name: A
  copy:
    src: B
    dest: C
    owner: D
    group: E

Where the elements A, B, C, D and E are generic symbols which represent parts of the document which are not strictly necessary. Whether the text in those elements themselves are creative enough to be copyrightable or whether your use of them would be infringing is another question, though. For example, in my opinion, the text in A "Put in the dog photo" is so short and generic that it is very plausible that two independent authors, each having her own idea in mind about putting in a photo of a dog somewhere, decided to write precisely the same words "put in the dog photo" independently. That doesn't mean those two authors are copying from each other and it doesn't mean one of them would require permission from the other in order to use the same words. However, if the text in A were something substantial, original, and creative, then the particular text in A could be copyrightable and using it or something derived from it would require permission.

In this case, though, I think you are not interested in copying A, B, C, D and E. You are interested in the other words of the document. However, if you look at those portions, they should be ignored when analyzing the copyright. Those elements ("name:", "copy:" etc.) are necessary for writing the script. They are part of the language used by the program. In other words, there is not really any other way to write a script that copies a document, other than to use those specific keywords. In copyright these are called scènes à faire. I.e. they are parts of a type of work that are basically obligatory.

Using the ansible example, I deliberately copy out of the ansible documentation all the time, ... [and] I would paste it right into my editor ...

I believe you are talking about using the copy/paste function of your computer. Copyright is not generally concerned with the method that you used to do the copying. For example, if you copy a chapter of a book, it does not generally matter whether you used a photocopier, whether you clicked copy/paste in your computer, whether you clicked "Forward" in your e-mail client (which also makes a copy), or whether you wrote it out by hand on a piece of paper. A copy is a copy.

On the flip side, using copy/paste of the non-copyrightable parts is not "copying" in the sense that copyright is talking about. It sounds like you are using copy/paste simply as a convenient way to avoid typing or to avoid making typos. In other words you could have just as well used copy/paste on this:

- name: A
  copy:
    src: B
    dest: C
    owner: D
    group: E

Which as we've already established has no copyrightable elements left in it, so it's not possible to infringe anyone's copyright by producing this, no matter what method you used to produce it.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstraction-Filtration-Comparison_test

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sc%C3%A8nes_%C3%A0_faire

| improve this answer | |
  • So ansible the group made the software and put it under gpl, and even though they created the scènes à faire (in the above example, copy:, src:, etc) they are in essence not eligible for copyright protection? They couldn't claim that indeed the copyright was meant for the creative effort that went into the code block itself? Perhaps by releasing it they cannot restrict its basic usage? – DogPhotosAreAwesome Feb 2 at 17:41
  • Technically they could claim anything, but personally I don't think it is protectible. Think of it this way: suppose you wanted to write your own piece of code that did the same thing, and you explicitly wanted to make your own version which did not derive from their's. Would there be any possible way for you to write your version that would not look like their version? If there is only one way or maybe a handful of possible ways, then the code is probably generic and is therefore not protectible. – Brandin Feb 3 at 5:36
  • @DogPhotosAreAwesome Also keep in mind when an author writes "this is copyrighted" or "you may only copy this under the terms of the GPL," etc. that protection only applies to the copyrightable portions of the work. It doesn't apply to things that explicitly have no copyright protection, such as individual words, factual information, etc. – Brandin Feb 3 at 6:57

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