Subject: Re: Effect of the MySQL FLOSS License Exception?
From: Rick Moen <>
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 2004 11:11:33 -0700

Quoting John Cowan (

> 	It's settled that a binary is a derivative work of
> 	its source.  It's obvious that a source tarball is a mere
> 	collective work, or "aggregation" as the GPL calls it.	What,
> 	then, is the status of a binary compiled from the tarball?
> 	It evidently is a derivative of the collection; is it a
> 	derivative of the source works as well?
> Larry says (in effect) no; Eben says yes.  Infinite are the arguments
> of mages.

The view you attribute to Prof. Moglen strikes me as very bizarre.  How
could merely compiling a work change its ownership title?  I suspect you
might be overinterpreting something he said about modifications to a
GPLed codebase that are _not_ sufficently an "original work of
authorship" to give the creator title in the first place.

I just had a bizarre mental image of someone saying "Nobody can safely
write songs about mad dogs and Englishmen any more, because one never
knows when the heirs of Noel Coward[1] might bring a lawsuit on a theory
of derivative work."

Can we talk fundamentals for a moment?

How does a programmer _ever_ know that his work isn't a derivative work,
but rather an "original work of authorship", thus meriting copyright
title?  He knows it because he wrote something substantive having
reasonably distinct existence, and documented his having done so in
order to be able to better assert his rights later.

The reason he can rest comfortably, assured of his copyright title about
as much as one can be of anything in law, is that neither he nor other
coders in similar circumstances have had their copyright titles denied
by any court (over fifty-odd years of electronic computing) merely
because they or anyone else merely combined their work with someone
else's -- interpreted, compiled, or just sitting there.  For purposes of
that question, the licensing of that other work is completely
immaterial:  Either what you, the concerned programmer, wrote was an
"original work of authorship" (in which case you own copyright), or it
wasn't (in which case you have no property interest).

Yes, it would be nice if the concept of derivative work were further
clarified (in the software context) by our courts.  But I can't see why
running it through a compiler would affect anyone's ownership.

[1] Because of[2] ,
you see.

[2] Not that my daydreams actually have footnotes in them.  Honest.

Cheers,        "A raccoon tangled with a 23,000 volt line, today.  The results
Rick Moen       blacked out 1400 homes and, of course, one raccoon."                                  -- Steel City News
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