There is an open source project licensed under the GPL v2. It does also contain textual files (JSON configuration examples). I would like to put those texts on slides in a presentation of mine.

Does this make my presentation a derivative work, thus enforcing the copyleft clause of the GPL forcing me to put my whole presentation under it?

  • 4
    JSON configuration examples might actually not be under the GPL in this project, because it creates a burden for users. You can ask the maintainers to be sure and also ask permission to use it that way so you don't have to worry.
    – meneldal
    Feb 13, 2020 at 5:53
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    Is the JSON configuration data or input or output? That would not be covered by the licence.
    – Criggie
    Feb 13, 2020 at 18:45
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    @Criggie: It's an example. I would describe it as 'documentation'.
    – mat
    Feb 13, 2020 at 21:25

1 Answer 1


The Berne Convention on copyright specifies the Right to Quote as an exception to copyright.

Article 10 (1) It shall be permissible to make quotations from a work which has already been lawfully made available to the public, provided that their making is compatible with fair practice, and their extent does not exceed that justified by the purpose, including quotations from newspaper articles and periodicals in the form of press summaries.

(2) It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union, and for special agreements existing or to be concluded between them, to permit the utilization, to the extent justified by the purpose, of literary or artistic works by way of illustration in publications, broadcasts or sound or visual recordings for teaching, provided such utilization is compatible with fair practice.

But as the second paragraph says, it is up to each country to determine in law how this right to quote shall be specified. Many countries cover this right under their broader rights of fair use or fair dealing. There are also several countries which have not signed the Berne Convention.

So just as you can quote from any random book without a license, you can quote from something GPL licensed without needing to abide by that license. But because the laws implementing the right to quote can be somewhat nebulous, and not every country has laws explicitly permitting it, I'd recommend you only quote the minimum you need.

Note that the right to quote applies to quotes in literature, and doesn't apply to using copied code in other software. When you copy code to use it in software there's no minimum amount of code that means you wouldn't be bound by its license. It's possible that you could make an argument that the copied code is too trivial to be copyrightable but it might be expensive to attempt to defend such an argument in court, and if the code really is so trivial then you should be able to reimplement it instead of copying it. But this is a different situation to quoting some code in an academic text.

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    I think that if you include a link to your code, or if it's unmodified a link to the original source, you're probably doubly covered. Feb 12, 2020 at 20:58
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    "under fair use" - this seems to assume that at least one of the parties, creator of the GPL-licensed material, or OP,, is located in a country whose legislation knows the concept of "fair use". Feb 13, 2020 at 15:53
  • @O.R.Mapper Indeed, though I've never heard of anyone being sued over a quote because their country doesn't have fair use. Feb 13, 2020 at 21:24
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    @curiousdannii: German copyright law doesn't have a fair use provision, and as this list of court decisions related to citations shows, apparently some people are getting sued over (what they claim to be) quotes. (Which, in German law, are subject to regulations specific to citations.) Feb 13, 2020 at 21:50
  • @O.R.Mapper Interesting, thank you. I edited the answer to include the right to quote which is legal almost everywhere, though of course it could be difficult or expensive to defend in court. Feb 13, 2020 at 23:17

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