A call for open source DTDs

Scott Vanderbilt lists at lumdata.com
Wed Oct 14 22:50:45 BST 1998

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 at lumdata.com
Luminous Dataworks
Phone: (310) 253-9918                            Custom database solutions
Fax:   (310) 842-7025                               for the World Wide Web
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