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Software Your Rights Online

How Wolfram Alpha's Copyright Claims Could Change Software 258

Posted by timothy
from the my-patent-app-will-involve-prayer-wheels-and-combinatorics dept.
snydeq writes "Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister suggests that Wolfram Research's claim to copyright of results returned by the Wolfram Alpha engine could have significant ramifications for the software industry. 'While software companies routinely retain sole ownership of their software and license it to users, Wolfram Research has taken the additional step of claiming ownership of the output of the software itself,' McAllister writes, pointing out that it is 'at least theoretically possible to copyright works generated by machines.' And, under current copyright law, if any Wolfram claim to authorship of the output of its engine is upheld, by extension the same rules will apply to other information services in similar cases as well. In other words, 'If unique presentations based on software-based manipulation of mundane data are copyrightable, who retains what rights to the resulting works?'"
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How Wolfram Alpha's Copyright Claims Could Change Software

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  • The key word... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:11PM (#28888301)
    The key word is "claims". Until this is tested in court, anyone can say anything. I could make a contract that said anything, I could say for each click you owe me $50, however to collect that I would have to sue and most likely the judge would throw it out. Until this is tested in court, it means nothing.
    • Re:The key word... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:38PM (#28888755) Homepage

      The key word is "claims". Until this is tested in court, anyone can say anything.

      I've heard that EA initially tried to claim that it held the copyright to all works created with Deluxe Paint (which originally came out in the mid-1980s).

      Don't know when or why they stopped claiming that (legal or PR reasons?)

      This is obviously a far from identical case, but it has some of that flavour.

      • Re:The key word... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Red Alastor (742410) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @05:29PM (#28889485)

        Don't know when or why they stopped claiming that (legal or PR reasons?)

        Maybe they realized their position would mean the people making their compiler own their software?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Reziac (43301) *

        How is this different from a paint and brush manufacturer claiming that all works made with their products also belong to them??

    • by recoiledsnake (879048) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:40PM (#28888797)

      This not a troll. I am serious. For a full analysis read here --> http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2009/07/wolfram-alpha-and-hubristic-user.html [blogspot.com]

      Some choice quotes

      Indeed (as we'll see), every decade since the '80s, billions of dollars and gazillions of man-hours have been invested in this fundamental error, to end routinely in disaster. It's as though the automotive industry had a large ongoing research program searching for the perpetual-motion engine.

      The error is that control interfaces must not be intelligent. Briefly, intelligent user interfaces should be limited to applications in which the user does not expect to control the behavior of the product. If the product is used as a tool, its interface should be as unintelligent as possible. Stupid is predictable; predictable is learnable; learnable is usable.

      I was reminded of this lesson by a brief perusal of Wolfram Alpha, the hype machine's latest gift. Briefly: there is actually a useful tool inside Wolfram Alpha, which hopefully will be exposed someday. Unfortunately, this would require Stephen Wolfram to amputate what he thinks is the beautiful part of the system, and leave what he thinks is the boring part.

      WA is two things: a set of specialized, hand-built databases and data visualization apps, each of which would be cool, the set of which almost deserves the hype; and an intelligent UI, which translates an unstructured natural-language query into a call to one of these tools. The apps are useful and fine and good. The natural-language UI is a monstrous encumbrance, which needs to be taken out back and shot. It won't be.

      et's examine this difference between Google and WA. Basically, Google is the exception: the UI that is not a control interface. Because Google's search interface is not a control interface, it should be an intelligent interface, as of course it is.

      Google is not a control interface because intrinsic to the state of performing a full-text search is the assumption that the results are to some extent random. Let's say I've heard of some blog called "Unqualified Reservations" and I type it into Google.

      Am I sure that the first result will be the blog itself? I suppose I'm about 95% sure. Do I have any idea what will come next? Of course not. Will I automatically click on the first result? Certainly not. I will look first. Because for all I know, the million lines of code that parsed my query could be having a bad hair day, and send me to Jim Henley instead.

      Google is not a control interface, because no predictable mapping exists between control input and system behavior, and none can be expected. A screwdriver is a control interface because if I am screwing in a screw and I turn the handle clockwise, I expect the screw to want to go in. If the screw is reverse threaded, it will want to come out instead, confusing me dreadfully. Fortunately, this mapping is not random; it is predictable. (Yes, Aspies, by "random" I mean "arbitrary.")

      But if you are an actual flow user who actually needs to get something done, WA could give you an alternative, manual interface for selecting your tool. You might perform the discovery task by browsing, say, a good old-fashioned menu. For example, the Nutrition Facts tool might come with its own URL, which you could bookmark and navigate to directly. There might even be a special form for entering your recipe. Yes, I know none of this is very high-tech. (Obviously the coolest thing would be a true command line - but the command line is truly not for all.)

      A more intriguing question is whether the Graffiti approach can be applied to full-text search. Many modern search engines, notably the hideous, awfully-named Bing, are actually multiple applications under the hood - just like WA. If Bing figures out that you are searching for a product, it will show you

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Great article, that's exactly why I didn't use WA more than twice. First time I typed in something complicated and it got confused and didn't know what I was asking. Second time it understood the topic of what I was asking about but completely failed to understand what data it was I wanted. So I closed that tab and moved on. I probably would have stayed if I could have controlled the results a bit more. I recall feeling it was mostly a black box with hype written all over it-- put something in and get somet

    • So.. suppose their output includes a repetition of your input. Suppose you input a copyrighted phrase or image? Would that not invalidate their copyright claim? They can claim design elements, sure. But this is a real stretch.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dshadowwolf (1132457)

      This may pass the test. From what I can tell, Wolfram Alpha is not a generic search engine that indexes content available on the web - it is, instead, an interface to a database of facts that were input by the Wolfram people. Since they most likely hold copyright to the input data, then the "mechanically generated translation" (ie: the results pages) of it retains the copyright of the original data.

      General search engines that base their database off the results of spiders indexing the web cannot hav

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sortius_nod (1080919)

      Personally I don't even think the "testing in court" is as far as we need to go. By even suggesting that the output is copyrighted is merely harming his own work. I refuse to use Wolfram Alpha, and have ensured my friends (many of them in the science and mathematics community) not to use it.

      I thought WA was amusing but totally useless to start with, when I found out it was all copyrighted, I almost ended up on the floor in laughter.

      Wolfram has no idea how monumentally retarded this whole idea is, I suppose

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Teancum (67324)

      Actually, this has been tested in court. The output of compilers and word processors in particular has legal precedence in terms of copyright that the creator of the software has a copyright claim to the output.

      Some compiler publishers, notably Borland from back in the 1980's and 1990's, used to explicitly grant an unlimited license explicitly for computer software developed using their development tools. Microsoft has a similar kind of license, but it is much more complex and filled with legalese and all

  • Compiled binaries? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by karl.auerbach (157250) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:12PM (#28888313) Homepage

    Modern compilers do a lot of optimization. By analogy to the Wolfram claim could compiler optimized binaries be considered subject to a copyright via the compiler? That would be bad.

    • by sys.stdout.write (1551563) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:17PM (#28888417)
      No kidding.

      And what about all those phat beats I made in FruityLoops[1]? Are those copyrighted by FL Studios?

      [1] I have never made phat beats
    • by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:18PM (#28888429)

      By analogy to the Wolfram claim could compiler optimized binaries be considered subject to a copyright via the compiler?

      That wouldn't be a creative work.

      • by FranTaylor (164577) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:20PM (#28888467)

        Is there a distinction or not?

      • by honkycat (249849) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:28PM (#28888611) Homepage Journal

        It's no more or less creative than what the Alpha software is doing. Both take an input from a human, apply some transformations to that, combine it with a library of other information, and produce something new is output.

        IMO the Alpha claim is totally bogus. There was creativity in writing the software, and anything it outputs that is hard coded is possibly eligible for copyright protection (i.e., a template phrasing for an answer), but claiming each output separately is ridiculous.

        • by Delwin (599872) *
          Not completely...

          The source code (or original work that Wolfram Alpha reads) can be copyrighted. Anything resulting from machine manipulation of that is a derivative work and there's already copyright rules for dealing with such.
          • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:57PM (#28889057)

            The source code (or original work that Wolfram Alpha reads) can be copyrighted. Anything resulting from machine manipulation of that is a derivative work and there's already copyright rules for dealing with such.

            A "derivative work" under US copyright law is an original work, and copyright in the derivative work belongs to the work's author, just as for any other original work. The significance of the status of "derivative work" vs. any other original work is that it is a violation of the copyright of the work from which the derivative work is derived to create such a work without the permission of the copyright owner of that prior work. See the definition of "derivative work" at 17 USC Sec. 101, the description of the exclusive rights in copyrighted works at 17 USC Sec. 106, and the description of copyright ownership at 17 USC Sec. 201.

          • by icebike (68054)

            Anything resulting from machine manipulation of that is a derivative work and there's already copyright rules for dealing with such.

            [Citation Needed.]

            Perhaps you can point to the rules that state machine output is a derivative work.

            If it was this clear, why would Alpha make such a ridiculous claim.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mdwh2 (535323)

          Well by that logic, nothing is "creative", because we're just machines that are producing works based on computation made by our brains (unless you want to claim that there's something mystical about humans).

          So there are two possibilities: either we say that creativity is something that can never apply to software (even if someone writes a human level AI that is indistinguishable from a creative human), or alternatively we judge "creativity" in the same way we judge humans.

          US courts have already ruled that

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by honkycat (249849)

            The law certainly seems to give human creativity special status. There's a lot of fuzziness in the definitions of virtually all copyright and patent rules that needs to be filled in.

            Without delving deeply into philosophical matters, my problem with their claim (or at least one of my problems with it, I probably have more but I'm not thinking too hard) is that it disregards the role played by the person who triggers the query in the production of the output. They've put together a complex system of rules f

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > Modern compilers do a lot of optimization. By analogy to the Wolfram claim could compiler optimized binaries
      > be considered subject to a copyright via the compiler? That would be bad.

      When I lived in Sydney in the 1980s and worked for a government department related to mapping, one now defunct producer of a pascal compiler attempted exactly that. They tried to introduce a phrase into their licensing agreement that not only claimed they had a license to use the resulting binaries, but that their uniqu

    • Is this not the case? Every compiler I've used has had an explicit clause in the license stating that the compiler author does not exert any claims of copyright over the output of the compiler.
      • In which case I know of some (mostly Lisp systems) you've never used. Of course, this is because of what's embedded in the executable. I haven't heard of any claiming the actual generated code.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd (1658)

      There are indeed some compilers sold with licenses that claim certain rights over the binaries compiled. This, apparently, used to be common practice, and for quite some time in the 80s and 90s, it was actually a selling-point for compilers to specifically permit people rights to do what they wanted with the binaries resulting from a compiled program.

    • by icebike (68054)

      You dig too deep my friend. You need not go to the obscure examples to find the danger lurking here.

      Quicken generates tax returns. Does this mean they retain a copyright in your returns?

      Word Processors generate printed forms, and PDFs.

      All your documents are belong to Microsoft!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Modern compilers do a lot of optimization. By analogy to the Wolfram claim could compiler optimized binaries be considered subject to a copyright via the compiler? That would be bad.

      Bad? Depends on who you consider...

      Think about this from a Free Software purist point of view. First of all, this would mean that anything produced by a GPL'd compiler would automatically fall under the GPL - and gcc is probably the most popular compiler in the world today for any language. It would effectively take the existing FSF stance on using GPL over LGPL for libraries for ideological reasons (so that people have an incentive to switch to GPL, as they get the benefit of accessing all the GPL'd libs t

  • by rayharris (1571543) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:14PM (#28888349)
    The display on my monitor is now copyright Acer.
    The output of Garage Band is now copyright Apple.
    The document I just wrote in Word is now copyright Microsoft.
    The text message I just sent is copyright Verizon.
    The photo I just took is copyright Canon.

    This opens Pandora's box like you wouldn't believe. We should be restraining copyright, not expanding it.
    • Exactly, it is stupid to keep expanding copyright. Soon, if this keeps expanding, the painting would be owned by the paint/paint brush/canvas maker, letters are owned by PaperMate, and drawings are owned by Crayola.
      • All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners. Comments are © 1997-2009 SourceForge, Inc.
    • We should be restraining copyright, not expanding it.

      Careful son, that's commie talk.
    • This opens Pandora's box like you wouldn't believe.

      Careful with that box, buddy. It's copyright Pandora. (As are its contents.)

    • by T Murphy (1054674) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:26PM (#28888589) Journal

      This opens Pandora's box like you wouldn't believe.

      Hey, that means Pandora owns all of that music, and no longer the RIAA. This could be revolutionary!

      • by jd (1658)

        Arguably, since Pandora defined their own algorithm for organizing the music and since databases and collections CAN be copyrighted, they do hold the copyright to the specific permutations resulting. I think they'd have a hard time getting the courts to agree, but the legal framework certainly exists for collections.

        The problem is that the collection is transitory, as is indeed Wolfram Alpha's. And transitory collections are NOT considered copyrightable. There was a case covering that not too long ago, if I

    • by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:29PM (#28888619)

      In all those cases, you would be the author (assuming we are talking about your work in Garage Band, and ignoring the monitor display since it is uncopyrightable). Therefore you would claim the copyright.

      However, in Wolfrum Alpha's case, you contribute no original content (a search string). Nor can the data that Wolfram gives back to you (facts) be considered original content eligible for copyright protection. However, their method of organizing the data IS protectable by copyright, if it's creative.

      Look at this search. [wolframalpha.com] None of the data would be protected, and I doubt that the organization top-to-bottom would be. But the organization plus the color would be. You couldn't reproduce a close replica of the presentation.

      Not legal advice. Although if yoy want my legal advice, it can be yours for a modest* fee.

      *Fee includes cost of sending me to law school.

      • by schon (31600) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:36PM (#28888717)

        in Wolfrum Alpha's case, you contribute no original content (a search string)

        What?!?!

        I am crafting the search string to generate output. Unless every single search string has been pre-vetted by Wolfram, it's quite obvious that it is mine. If I vary the the search string, I get different results. That's pretty obviously "original".

        If anything, the search string is the *only* part that's creative (the output is just a database.)

        • Courts have ruled that a phone directory is copyright-able, but the data is not, because phone books organize data in a creative way. Not sure how that applies here.

        • I am crafting the search string to generate output. Unless every single search string has been pre-vetted by Wolfram, it's quite obvious that it is mine. If I vary the the search string, I get different results. That's pretty obviously "original".

          If you walk into a piano bar, and tell the pianist, "Hey, play me something upbeat." If he improvises a melody on the spot, do you think the copyright for that music should be yours?

          If not, what's the difference?

      • However, in Wolfrum Alpha's case, you contribute no original content (a search string).

        On the contrary, the search string is the only original thing in the entire transaction.

    • by yttrstein (891553)
      It doesn't open anything of the sort. Wolfram is not attempting to copyright the *data itself*, they're attempting to copyright *the data itself presented in a specific format*.

      You know, just like how textbooks are copyrighted, except Wolfram Alpha generates them on the fly.

      This is completely a non issue.
    • by winkydink (650484) *

      Sorry, the box you opened and its contents have been copyrighted by Pandora.

  • Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by City AnG3lu5 (1562913) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:14PM (#28888351)
    This is absurd. They used programs to create their Alpha Engine. Does that mean that whoever wrote those programs owns their engine? It'll never fly.
  • So would this extend to something like, say, a Photoshop filter, where the machine is generating the output? Does nik software suddenly have a copyright claim on my photos?

    Or does Autodesk have a claim on my animated movie, because, while I used the software to create the objects and things, it was really the software that generated the resulting file.

    This isn't a slippery slope, this is a big bottomless hole.

  • by gilleain (1310105) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:19PM (#28888441)

    Given that he (allegedly) tried to sue because of a citation, this should not come as a surprise. Especially since that case was about an employee researcher whose proof (that rule 110 is capable of universal computation):

    From this review of 'A New Kind of Science' [umich.edu]

    So this essentially means that no-one will want to do anything generally useful with alpha, if they won't benefit from their work?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jefu (53450)

      no-one will want to do anything generally useful with alpha

      It does raise the temptation though to go tossing random queries at the engine in the hopes that they try to register all of the results with the copyright office. I doubt the copyright people would be amused even if they tried to register all of the legitimate queries.

  • by digitig (1056110) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:19PM (#28888455)
    Many years ago when procuring a data processing system for air traffic control, one bidder had buried in their small print that they retained copyright on all data produced by their system. We didn't buy that system (the copyright claim was an influence) so I don't know how it would have played out in court.
  • There it goes... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zonex (1155201)
    There goes any remaining chance of anyone actually using this search engine...
  • by ArhcAngel (247594) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:20PM (#28888475)

    Sounds a lot like the retail chains claiming copyright on information from their Black Friday fliers to keep the prices from being posted too early. Granted Wolfram Alpha is a little more complicated but if it is simply processing facts and laying them out in a certain way they might be able to patent the algorithm but the results are still facts.

    • Sounds a lot like the retail chains claiming copyright on information from their Black Friday fliers to keep the prices from being posted too early.

      Its more like, say, Microsoft claiming copyright on any document you create with Word. And the claim is about as laughable—and destructive to the usability of the tool for any purpose—as Microsoft making such a claim would be.

  • The owner of the machine producing the output is the owner of the output.

    So while Wolfram might successfully claim ownership of the output of Wolfram Alpha, no way in hell could, for example, Microsoft claim ownership of things made on your own computer just because you're running "their" software on it, because it's only "their" software inasmuch as they own the copyrights on it; the actual copy of the software, and the machine it's running on, are yours.

    Though it would also seem necessary for the owner of
    • by schon (31600)

      The owner of the machine producing the output is the owner of the output.

      So say I was a professional photographer. My camera breaks before a big gig, so I rent one from the repair company. According to your "common sense", the camera repair company (instead of me, or my client) would own the copyright to all the pictures I take?!??!?!

      Perhaps you came over to my place, and used my copy of Photoshop to make a picture. I own the copyright on the work you made?

      Common sense would say the person performing the creative input (or their employer, in the case of work-for-hire) would g

      • by Pfhorrest (545131)
        Did you even finish reading my post before snapping like that? Quoth myself:

        Though it would also seem necessary for the owner of a machine to be able to transfer ownership of that machine's output to someone else if they liked, e.g. if you were renting a machine, common sense would seem to suggest you own its output, even though you don't own the machine.

        Your suggestion that (if I may rephrase) the user of the machine owns the rights to its output does sound like a solution to the other issues I discussed, though.

    • The owner of the machine producing the output is the owner of the output.

      US copyright law, at least (and, AFAIK, the copyright law of just about every other nation on the planet) assigns copyright ownership by authorship, not by ownership of the tools used by authors.

  • I hope Wolfram dies. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tjstork (137384) <(todd.bandrowsky) (at) (gmail.com)> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:21PM (#28888483) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, I mean, people that do what he does just wreck the world for everyone else through unmitigated greed. Claiming the output of a program? For what? So he can try and figure out ways to charge people for 2+2=4? Just, what a jackass.... I seriously, everytime I read about Wolfram, the guy is more and more of a dick all the time. I'll piss on his grave, for sure, when he finally kicks off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      SIr:

      Pissing on graves has been copyrighted by Wolfram Research, Inc. For each instance of pissing, a royalty fee of $563.87 will be paid to Wolfram Research, Inc.

      Sincerely,

      Wolfram.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I hope he never dies. I don't want to see copyright carried over into the afterlife. If he does die, we would have to kill NYCL to chase him down.

      • by tjstork (137384)

        I hope he never dies. I don't want to see copyright carried over into the afterlife. If he does die, we would have to kill NYCL to chase him down.

        Boy, you got a point there, so I guess I have to hope he lives forever and then I'll just piss on him!

  • I doubt it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by speedtux (1307149) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:22PM (#28888513)

    Copyright requires that a human creates something. Wolfram's software is clearly not a human, and it is unlikely to be even close to artificial intelligence either. Hence, no copyright.

    • What does it mean to create something? They will argue that their program is like the artist's paintbrush - it enables the output. After all, the painter never touches the canvas themselves.

      • What does it mean to create something? They will argue that their program is like the artist's paintbrush - it enables the output.

        If they do argue that, it would certainly defeat their copyright claim, since its pretty clear that the maker of a paintbrush doesn't have copyright on any painting created with it. Making a tool that someone else uses to create an original work of authorship doesn't give you copyright, using the tool to create the work does.

  • My experience to date has been that the output of Alpha is mostly underwhelming.
    • by jd (1658)

      Well, what did you expect for the output of something labeled Alpha? Wait for the Beta release at least.

  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:26PM (#28888577)

    A phone book publisher doesn't own the right to your phone number, nor does it own the exclusive right to print listings of phone numbers, but it does hold copyright to the unique presentation of phone numbers. That is, you can copy the phone numbers out of their book, reformat them, print it, and sell it, but you can't just photocopy each page and the sell that.

  • This is idiotic. This would be like saying that if you purchase an Ipod, apple owns the sound waves created by the files you put on it. Or, if you purchase a loom, that the loom maker owns the rights to all items that come from that loom. See, Wolfram alpha doesn't do anything but sit there until you put something into it. I mean, sure you could look at the webpage all day long, but until you put in "Are you skynet?" or "What is 1+1?" and get a result, its pointless. Just like an ipod needs mp3s, and a loom
  • by hackus (159037) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:31PM (#28888659) Homepage

    Well,

        I can tell you one thing. If it ever is held up in court and program output becomes copyrighted in any way, I am basically going to quit the industry and open up an Italian restaurant.

        I have no intention of participating in a field that is seething with greed and sowing the seeds of its own darkness.

        The restrictions of IP are so catastrophic right now, that real advances in computer usability are essentially being delayed and in their place, anything that you can create with pretty bitmap graphics is declared a HUGE ADAVANCE or some how "cool".

        This whole mess is because we do not make anything worth a damn any more. In my opinion everyone wants to live like a king and do little if any real work, which is what the whole idea of extending copyrights and IP to ludicrous ends is all about.

          Computers suck right now, and I do not see it getting any better if this sort of restriction is placed on the industry. Can't f'in own anything any more because some rich arse has a army of lawyers to bribe congressional leaders and grease the rails for new extensions to IP laws.

        Perhaps we should target Wolfram in earnest, and simple remove the incentive to buy Wolfram products. We did it with UNIX, (we=open source community). Mathematica could be rebuilt in 5 years with a good focus.

    Some projects such as Sage already have made large strides:

    http://www.sagemath.org/tour-quickstart.html [sagemath.org]

    Sage has similar capabilities to Mathematica including the separation of client and server for example.

    -Hack

    • Mathematica could be rebuilt in 5 years with a good focus.

      Mathematica hasn't released a decent album since Kill 'Em Algorithmically.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SeaFox (739806)

      I can tell you one thing. If it ever is held up in court and program output becomes copyrighted in any way, I am basically going to quit the industry and open up an Italian restaurant.

      That wont save you from having to deal with it. After all, you may have prepared a casserole dish that contained pasta, meat, sauce, and cheese, but it was through the process of climate control by means of electrical to thermal energy conversion that resulted in a lasagna. Therefore, the Kenmore corporation now claims copyr

  • Think: singularity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:35PM (#28888695) Journal

    Assume for a moment that Kurzweil is right, that people will be mergeable with machines, that your mind can be dowloaded into a neural simulator and run - recreating you, thoughts, memories, etc. All of you.

    So there you are, a process running on a computer, probably in some 3D game on steroids - eternal life! But if this copyright grab stands, and the software running the simulator is copyrighted, does that mean that your very thoughts are copyrighted, too?

    If you assume a materialist definition of the world, that what we see is what is, and there's no spirit, no Valhalla, no flying spaghetti monster, then we humans are, in fact, a functioning material machine.

    Thought police, indeed.

  • by kawabago (551139) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:37PM (#28888743)
    Facts, figures and data returned by a search engine are not eligible for copyright protection, you can see that from a plain reading of the law. Corporations would love to extend copyright onto everything so they can make more money, but that is not the purpose of copyright and this idea will be tossed out on summary judgment.
  • hint: Angel.

  • Input: Is alpha original work? [wolframalpha.com]
    Ouput: "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input."

    Seems worthy of copyright to me.
  • Prior/Other Art? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hyperion2010 (1587241)

    Hang on... this is like the "trying to copyright pictures of paintings in the public domain." You can patent a camera, but it has been unambiguously ruled that trying to copyright a photograph of something in the public domain does not add any creative value to the painting and thus does not constitute a novel creative work. Same thing here, you can patent/copyright your bit of software, but claiming that any output it generates also constitutes a creative work by the coder of the software will not fly be

  • This will make Richard Stallman Rich. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?
  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:45PM (#28888875) Homepage

    Interesting. Can Wolfram claim the output of its software?
    I think not.

    Does Canon own a copyright in a photo I take (using its copyrighted firmware)?
    Does Lexmark own a copyright in an image I print?
    Does Adobe own a copyright in my photoshop file?

    First of all (and this is probably the end of the discussion for Wolfram's knowledge engine), you can't own a copyright in facts.

    Ignoring that glaring flaw in Wolfram's claim, there is another problem. The user contributed to the output by entering the query in the first place. The only half-way plausible argument would be that the user has created a "derivative work" based on the software.

    The nearest case on *that* point that comes to mind would be the Game Genie cases of Nintendo v. Galoob, 964 F.2d 965 (9th Cir. 1992). Nintendo argued that Galoob infringed by altering the display of its games. Nintendo lost. But the court seemed to accept that Nintendo's audio-visual display created by its game cartridge was a copyrightable "work". (The decision centered on the fact that Game Genie's ouput was not "fixed", or alternatively was a fair use).

    So there is some precedent that the output of software is copyrightable.

    But probably not for something as factual as the output of Wolfram's "knowledge engine."

    Moreover, it is probably a "fair use" to copy the output of the software, as it does not reduce the market for the software itself (the 'most important, and indeed, central fair use factor).

    • So if you're talking about simply taking screenshots of the output, then yes, that is probably copyright infringement.

      I'm not clear on exactly what they are claiming.

  • One can only hope that those who wrote the compiler that Wolfram used to write their code realize that they now have claim to the Wolfram program.
  • by russotto (537200) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:47PM (#28888907) Journal

    They've just trained teams of underpaid humans to answer the search results. That's how they get a valid copyright.

  • If Wolfram is Turing-complete then the output is the same as the output to any Turing machine.
    So wouldn't that make their claim overly-broad?

  • Here we go again (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stonecypher (118140) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {rehpycenots}> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @04:59PM (#28889075) Homepage Journal

    The copyright of machine generated work has been a matter of law for more than a hundred years.

    If you think this is in any way open to debate, ask yourself who drew Toy Story.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by hyperion2010 (1587241)

      Wait, you're telling me the Shrek was the creation of a rogue 486 hyped up on 512mb of ram?! It all makes sense now!

    • The copyright of machine generated work has been a matter of law for more than a hundred years.

      If you think this is in any way open to debate, ask yourself who drew Toy Story.

      Actually, Toy Story is a bad example, since the people who used the tools to create the work, the people who owned the actual tools, and the people who owned the copyright on the tools were, largely, the same people, as Pixar both made the film and built the key rendering tools, and owned the copies of the rendering tools it used; the

  • Just to have some fun...
    printf("your mother");
    printf("(C) 2009");

    This post is "(C) 2009" because I am a computer... any attempts to quote or respond to this post will require written permission by my creator.

    ... seriously
  • The really interesting thing would be to start copyrighting possible outputs of Wolfram Alpha (without actually running it), and then suing Wolfram for violating your copyright on the prospective query. Let the courts sort out that mess!
  • They may claim copyright of the output, but the copyright of the input lies clearly with the users.
    And since the output cannot be generated (or is meaningless) without the input, every claim of copyright of output means violating the users' copyright of the input.

  • I've just finished writing a program to generate and copyright every 140 character string.

    I'll soon own Twitter!

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @06:59PM (#28890599) Homepage

    "Article I, 8, cl. 8, of the Constitution mandates originality as a prerequisite for copyright protection. The constitutional requirement necessitates independent creation plus a modicum of creativity. Since facts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship, they are not original, and thus are not copyrightable. The Copyright Act of 1976 and its predecessor, the Copyright Act of 1909, leave no doubt that originality is the touchstone of copyright protection in directories and other fact-based works. The 1976 Act explains that copyright extends to "original works of authorship," 17 U.S.C. 102(a), and that there can be no copyright in facts, 102(b). [499 U.S. 340, 341]... A compilation is not copyrightable per se, but is copyrightable only if its facts have been "selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship....

    Lower courts that adopted a "sweat of the brow" or "industrious collection" test - which extended a compilation's copyright protection beyond selection and arrangement to the facts themselves - misconstrued the 1909 Act and eschewed the fundamental axiom of copyright law that no one may copyright facts or ideas."--Feist vs. Rural Telephone [findlaw.com], U. S. Supreme Court, 1991.

    Obviously it's not cut-and-dried, because Wolfram Alpha does more in the way of selecting and compiling facts than the average computer program, but it is still a mechanical process.

    The person who designed the wind chime that hangs outside my house put some creative originality into it, but I would hate to think that the output of the wind chime itself is copyrightable, just because the wind chime's mechanism rearranges the notes into patterns that no human thought of before.

    If the court decides that the output of a machine meets the test of originality, and if there's any validity to the theory that an identity of seven consecutive notes constitute plagiarism of music, then I am certainly going to set my computer to work producing as many different seven-note sequences as it can as fast as it can, and try to copyright them all.

  • FSF disagrees (Score:4, Informative)

    by jbn-o (555068) <mail@digitalcitizen.info> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @07:16PM (#28890753) Homepage

    I'd trust the FSF's take on this more than Wolfram's because the FSF has a long history of interpreting copyright law correctly. The relevant GNU GPL FAQ entry [gnu.org] says:

    Is there some way that I can GPL the output people get from use of my program? For example, if my program is used to develop hardware designs, can I require that these designs must be free?

    In general this is legally impossible; copyright law does not give you any say in the use of the output people make from their data using your program. If the user uses your program to enter or convert his own data, the copyright on the output belongs to him, not you. More generally, when a program translates its input into some other form, the copyright status of the output inherits that of the input it was generated from.

    So the only way you have a say in the use of the output is if substantial parts of the output are copied (more or less) from text in your program. For instance, part of the output of Bison (see above) would be covered by the GNU GPL, if we had not made an exception in this specific case.

    You could artificially make a program copy certain text into its output even if there is no technical reason to do so. But if that copied text serves no practical purpose, the user could simply delete that text from the output and use only the rest. Then he would not have to obey the conditions on redistribution of the copied text.

    Wolfram has no interest in user's freedoms (as should be obvious from their claims to control user's output) but the implications of this are interesting for Wolfram considering what compiler Wolfram is likely using to make GNU/Linux and MacOS X binaries. I think Wolfram is merely looking at this situation with the most restrictive interpretation not just for the user (which is enough reason to reject Wolfram's programs entirely) but with regard to which copyright holder would control what.

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

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