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   Re: A call for open source DTDs

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  • From: Scott Vanderbilt <lists@lumdata.com>
  • To: xml-dev@ic.ac.uk
  • Date: Wed, 14 Oct 1998 13:50:49 -0700

Regarding copyright ownership of DTD:

Copyright law protects expressions of ideas, not the underlying ideas themselves. In many instances, a well-written DTD can only be expressed in a particular manner, with allowances made for naming of elements, attributes, etc. Therefore, any protection under copyright law would be limited, because the scope of copyright protection is proportional to the range of expression available to articulate the underlying ideas communicated by the DTD. This is called the "merger doctrine" and is well known in copyright law, especially with regard to the area of computers.

In much the same way as I cannot copyright the QuickSort algorithm, or the recipe for ice cubes, acquiring a defensible copyright in most DTDs would be well nigh impossible. If you took most any DTD where the circumstances necessarily limit the ways in which such a DTD could be constructed, changed the element names, and made a few other minor alterations, only an exceedingly foolish DTD "author" would press a claim for copyright infringement. In cases where the choices available to an author are limited, the ideas underlying the work are deemed to "merge" with their expression, thereby rendering the work unprotectible.

For those who are interested in reading more on the matter, I suggest reading the court's opinion in Computer Assocs. Int'l v. Altai, Inc., 982 F.2d 693 (2d Cir. 1992). It deals with software, but many of the principles enunicated in that case would bear directly on a case involving infringement of a DTD.

Scott D. Vanderbilt mailto:scott@lumdata.com
Luminous Dataworks
Phone: (310) 253-9918 Custom database solutions
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