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How Wolfram Alpha's Copyright Claims Could Change Software

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the my-patent-app-will-involve-prayer-wheels-and-combinatorics dept.

Software 258

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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258 comments

The key word... (5, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#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... (3, Interesting)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888755)

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.

irrelevant (-1, Flamebait)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889077)

Nobody can remember the moronic URL to his data processing service anyway, so it doesn't matter what he claims. Does the Pope shit in the woods when a tree falls and nobody hears him spanking his monkey with one hand? Probably not.

Re:irrelevant (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889361)

Now what he needs to do is apply for a patent on claiming copyright on the output of a mechanical transformation.

Wolfram alpha sucks anyway (5, Interesting)

recoiledsnake (879048) | more than 4 years ago | (#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 one UI. If it figures out that you are searching for a celebrity, it will show you another UI. It may also switch algorithms, data sets, etc, etc. I'm sure Google has all kinds of analogous, if more subtle, meta-algorithms.

While generic full-text search, unlike generic data visualization, remains a viable application and a very useful one, specialized search might (or might not - this is not my area of expertise) be an even more useful one. If the user has an affordance by which to tell the algorithm the purpose or category of her search, the whole problem of guessing which application to direct the query to disappears and is solved perfectly. A whole class of category errors ceases to exist.

Go read the full article, it's much longer but very well analyzes why it's more used by AI aficionados rather than regular users.

Re:Wolfram alpha sucks anyway (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28889053)

Look at me, I can cut+paste. Please mod me up so I can be a successful cut+paste karma whore. Its so much easier than actually coming up with something on my own!

Wanna prove your not a karma whore? Post your cut+paste as AC.

If that output contains a copyrighted item? (1)

dmomo (256005) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888929)

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:The key word... (2, Interesting)

dshadowwolf (1132457) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889073)

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 have their results pages independently copyright because it is a "mechanical translation" and therefore carries the copyright(s) of the original works. This holds true for the output of compilers and similar tools.
 

NOTE: IANAL and the above is based on numerous discussions I have had with lawyers and my own reading of the US Copyright statutes. So YMMV. Also note that the above only applies in the US - other countries copyright legislation may allow for the results of a "mechanical translation" to carry their own, independent copyrights.

Compiled binaries? (4, Insightful)

karl.auerbach (157250) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888313)

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.

Re:Compiled binaries? (4, Interesting)

sys.stdout.write (1551563) | more than 4 years ago | (#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

Re:Compiled binaries? (4, Insightful)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Compiled binaries? (4, Insightful)

honkycat (249849) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888611)

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.

Re:Compiled binaries? (1)

Delwin (599872) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888931)

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.

Re:Compiled binaries? (4, Informative)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Compiled binaries? (2, Insightful)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889443)

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 hard work is not sufficient for copyright, there needs to be some originality, so I'm not sure that a process such as compiling would ever be considered "creative", even if it was done by hand. Should what Alpha does be considered creative too? I don't know - probably not. However, the point is that even if a court ruled that it should be copyrightable, this does not imply that all other software results would be copyrightable. Just as a court ruling that a painting made by a human is copyrightable, doesn't mean that taking a photo of a public domain artwork is copyrightable.

One question that I have trouble answering: supposing a company took requests for research, then had its employees compile its results, perhaps using computers along the way, and then present them back to the person who requested it. Clearly in that case, copyright belongs by default to the company. But what if they then gradually switched to using a fully computerised method, but didn't advertise this fact? Should this suddenly mean they lose copyright? Would a court have to investigate the internal processes in order to judge whether it should be copyrightable?

There is another point by which a distinction could be made: the copyright belongs to the person controlling the software. So in my example above, the employees are entering the data to their software, and so the company owns the copyright. But a person using a compiler, or perhaps an automatic music generator, is the one inputting the data, and so should own the copyright. In both cases, the software is irrelevant. Alpha gets tricky, because it's online - they could make the argument that the software is running on servers owned by them. OTOH, there's the argument that the user is still using the software, and should own the copyright. If online software was treated differently, this would be a cause for concern, though online software already has dangers regarding licencing, in that software companies can charge for it as a service, unlike offline client-side software.

Re:Compiled binaries? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888895)

> 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 unique version of pascal* meant they had a license over any source used as well, because it was written for their compiler and theirs alone.

After some arguing to and fro, we dumped them, and they were out of business by the end of the decade.

* Anyone working on pascal after 1983 should know exactly which compiler I'm talking about.

Re:Compiled binaries? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888913)

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.

Re:Compiled binaries? (1)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889059)

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:Compiled binaries? (2, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889093)

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.

They better not go there... (5, Insightful)

rayharris (1571543) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:They better not go there... (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888401)

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.

Re:They better not go there... (1)

dyingtolive (1393037) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888599)

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners. Comments are © 1997-2009 SourceForge, Inc.

Re:They better not go there... (3, Funny)

Anonymous CowHardon (1605679) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888465)

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

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

Re:They better not go there... (1)

FunPika (1551249) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888535)

The email I just sent in Outlook is copyright Microsoft.
The software I just wrote in Visual Studio is copyright Microsoft.
The video I edited in Windows Movie Maker is copyright Microsoft.

Re:They better not go there... (3, Funny)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888589)

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!

Re:They better not go there... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889141)

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 remember rightly, in which that was the decision, which means there's case law out there for that interpretation.

Re:They better not go there... (3, Interesting)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:They better not go there... (3, Insightful)

schon (31600) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.)

Re:They better not go there... (1)

recoiledsnake (879048) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889021)

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.

Re:They better not go there... (1)

johnsonav (1098915) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889163)

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?

Re:They better not go there... (1)

kikito (971480) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889421)

The difference is that in Wolfram's case it would be the piano maker who is claiming copyright of the improvised song.

Re:They better not go there... (1)

Serious Callers Only (1022605) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888799)

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.

Re:They better not go there... (1)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888715)

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.

Re:They better not go there... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28889091)

Just think what Biro would own ...

Re:They better not go there... (1)

lien_meat (1126847) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889401)

So what? I'll just put it through my own script that modifies it in my own trivial and non-significant way, and then it can be copyrighted by ME... This is just pathetic.

Absurd (5, Insightful)

City AnG3lu5 (1562913) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Absurd (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28889377)

Actually, that would be nice. I have no doubt that somehow, somewhere, a piece of GPL'ed software was used in the creation/design of Wolfram Alpha. The result by this logic would be that Wolfram Alpha itself is GPL as well. And its output as well.

My search terms define and shape the result... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888377)

... so any future searches that show the same results are copyright me and WA must license them

Filters? (1)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888421)

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.

This is not so surprising for Wolfram (4, Informative)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 4 years ago | (#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?

I've seen this before (3, Interesting)

digitig (1056110) | more than 4 years ago | (#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... (2, Insightful)

zonex (1155201) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888463)

There goes any remaining chance of anyone actually using this search engine...

Can facts be copyrighted? (2, Insightful)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can facts be copyrighted? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888811)

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.

I'd think common sense would say... (1)

Pfhorrest (545131) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888481)

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 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.

This could raise questions about whether the user of a website like Wolfram Alpha could claim that, as he was the one using Wolfram's machine, and as a customer rather than as an employee (where work-for-hire laws might apply), he should be the owner of the output.

It could also raise the possibility of someone like Microsoft sneaking in a clause in their EULA (which nobody ever reads) claiming that anything produced with MS Word is actually copyrighted to Microsoft and you, the end user, merely have a license to use it... But I'd like to see that farce try to fly in court.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I am a philosopher, and I disapprove of all intellectual property laws in general.

Re:I'd think common sense would say... (1)

schon (31600) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888847)

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 get own the copyright.

The machine is transforming input to output - so whoever provides the input would own the copyright on the output.

Re:I'd think common sense would say... (1)

Pfhorrest (545131) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889123)

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.

Re:I'd think common sense would say... (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889319)

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. (4, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888483)

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:I hope Wolfram dies. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888707)

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:I hope Wolfram dies. (3, Funny)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888853)

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.

Re:I hope Wolfram dies. (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889195)

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!

Re:I hope Wolfram dies. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28889159)

Goddamnit! No pissing where I'm dancing. :)

I doubt it (2, Insightful)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:I doubt it (1)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888607)

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.

Re:I doubt it (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888969)

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.

Who would want Alpha's output (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888569)

My experience to date has been that the output of Alpha is mostly underwhelming.

Re:Who would want Alpha's output (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888893)

Tell me about it.

I was in the market for a new motorcycle, and want to know the average selling price of a make/model. Google gives me a list of results that I have to filter manually. I expect Alpha, being a "computational knowledge engine" might be smart enough to figure it out for me. Except all I get is "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.", and suggests I search for the history of motorcycles.

Yeah, *real* useful.

Re:Who would want Alpha's output (1)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889165)

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

Monkey see, Monkey do (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888573)

That explains why there's an infinite number of monkeys out there claiming they own every copyright.

This is no different than the Yellow Pages (4, Insightful)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

My Copyright Claim of Adding 2 Web Pages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888615)

#1 URL =1
#2 URL = 100

#1 URL + #2 URL = 101

I have copyrighted this claim of adding 2 Web pages to obtain a resulting sum.

To License This Product Please Deposit Euro 10,000,000
into Account # 4432333 of Nigerian Saving Bank And Trust

Yours In Industry,
Kilgore Trout [youtube.com]

Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888635)

Seems like there is a very simple to this.

If you don't like the license, then DON'T USE IT.

If no one was to use Alpha (particularly if you tell them that the license is why you don't use it) then they would change their license in a hurry.

Bogus. (1)

scubamage (727538) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888645)

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 needs thread. Both items are user provided. I can't wait to see this go to court.

Claims or Tested in Court (4, Interesting)

hackus (159037) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888659)

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

Re:Claims or Tested in Court (3, Funny)

Anonymous CowHardon (1605679) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888827)

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

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

The keyword is "authorship" (1)

mileshigh (963980) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888683)

Machine-generated output per se isn't copyrightable, since machines aren't (yet) capable of original authorship. Of course, computer output is copyrightable if it also contains original, human-generated content, for example Wolfram's logo, etc. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright [wikipedia.org] , search for "authorship."

Think: singularity (4, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888695)

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.

Anti-RIAA method! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888713)

If this isn't a bogus claim, then just feed it your iTunes library. The sole copyright on the output would then be transferred to Wolfram. Wolfram could then upload all this music to some torrent for free.

Copyright is for Creative Works (3, Informative)

kawabago (551139) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Copyrights = Responsibility ..... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28888749)

I might be able to be _convinced_ to go along with copyright on the results of their search engine IF .....

They were willing to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the accuracy of their results. If I relied on the results of their search engine to design a pressure vessel and it blew up, they should pay damages.

If they have the right to copyright for what their software generates, they also have the responsibility for the accuracy of what their software generates.

Somehow, I don't think they'd stand behind their results .....

Ask the "knowledge engine" if it's original work (2, Funny)

atomic_bomberman (1602061) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888807)

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? (2, Insightful)

hyperion2010 (1587241) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888813)

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 because the user of the software is usually the one who is doing the creative work. Maybe I'm thinking more along the lines of word processors and books where this is obvious and any goon trying to claim otherwise would be laughed out of court....

"Im sorry Dan Brown, but Bill Gates has the rights to your new book since you use MSWord2008, should have used emacs."

Also, fuck Wolfram, I was given a copy of his big fat book "New Science" or whatever, I'm not going to read it, and I can get Mathematica for free through my Uni, but I think I'll stick with my TI83 emulator since TI doesnt have a God complex.

what about emacs? (1)

trb (8509) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888863)

This will make Richard Stallman Rich. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?

Just imagine the royalties... (1)

crunch_ca (972937) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888865)

#include <stdio.h>
main(t,_,a)char *a;{return!0 main(-86,0,a+1)+a)):1,t main(2,_+1,"%s %d %d\n"):9:16:t "@n'+,#'/*{}w+/w#cdnr/+,{}r/*de}+,/*{*+,/w{%+,/w#q#n+,/#{l,+,/n{n+,/+#n+,/#\
;#q#n+,/+k#;*+,/'r :'d*'3,}{w+K w'K:'+}e#';dq#'l \
q#'+d'K#!/+k#;q#'r}eKK#}w'r}eKK{nl]'/#;#q#n'){)#}w'){){nl]'/+#n';d}rw' i;# \
){nl]!/n{n#'; r{#w'r nc{nl]'/#{l,+'K {rw' iK{;[{nl]'/w#q#n'wk nw'
\
iwk{KK{nl]!/w{%'l##w#' i; :{nl]'/*{q#'ld;r'}{nlwb!/*de}'c \
;;{nl'-{}rw]'/+,}##'*}#nc,',#nw]'/+kd'+e}+;#'rdq#w! nr'/ ') }+}{rl#'{n' ')# \
}'+}##(!!/")
:t :0 "!ek;dc i@bK'(q)-[w]*%n+r3#l,{}:\nuwloca-O;m .vpbks,fxntdCeghiry"),a+1);}

I can now copyright the 12 days of Christmas! (Well, if I hadn't ripped the code off from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] )

Not totally laughable. (3, Insightful)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888875)

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).

Re:Not totally laughable. (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889271)

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.

Interesting... (1)

Lundse (1036754) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888887)

...this charming bloke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashleigh_Brilliant) seems to have set some precedence for a very small byte-count-threshold for what i copyrightable. I should think it would be an easy matter to create a program which delivers every conceivable combination of words to form a longish sentence - if the results are copyrighted by virtue of having been produced by my program...?
Of course it will never hold up in court, but it is a wonderful metaphor for how insane software patents are!

sure, that's fair (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888889)

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.

There is no alpha engine (3, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888907)

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

Prior art (1)

Progman3K (515744) | more than 4 years ago | (#28888941)

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?

Re:Prior art (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889117)

Many humans are Turing complete.

So I'm not sure that really means much in the face of copyrights on the output.

Re:Prior art (1)

Progman3K (515744) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889267)

It's like copyrighting Pi.
Pi is infinite, right? So EVERYTHING in creation occurs in pi (mmmm.... pie...)
So if you could copyright something whose output is essentially infinite, you could claim ownership of everything...

Here we go again (3, Insightful)

stonecypher (118140) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889075)

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:Here we go again (2, Funny)

hyperion2010 (1587241) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889321)

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!

Re:Here we go again (1)

computerchimp (994187) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889331)

Really bad analogy there because there is a big difference. The people who worked on Toy Story were contracted to a company to create a product (Disney). Disney owns the rights.

Re:Here we go again (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889445)

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 more relevant situations to the Wolfram|Alpha claim would be cases where the use of the tools, the ownership of the tools, and the ownership of the copyright on the tools weren't all concentrated in the same person.

So, instead, as yourself who (absent any copyright assignment or work for hire situation) owns the copyright on output you create with a copy of Microsoft Word licensed to you (presuming, for the moment, "you" are not Microsoft Corp.)? What about (again, absent any copyright assignment or work for hire situation) owns the copyright on output you create with a copy of Microsoft Word that isn't licensed to you?

Routine copyright violation (1)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 4 years ago | (#28889407)

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!
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