Does open content affect the licensing of closed software that uses it


Does content licensed under open licenses such as the Creative Commons Share-Alike or the GNU free documentation license affect in anyway software that uses such open content.

The core issue is: can someone argue that the software using the open content is a derivative work of said content, maybe based on the fact that (some?) copyright laws construe software as just another form of literary work.

Take for example a commercial CAL learning system or a GIS mapping system that uses free dictionary data or free mapping data, can the authors of such commercial software assume that their licensing is resting on solid ground despite their use of open content?

What if the open content has structural specificities such as a unique form of data arrangement or inter-relationships, and the software exploits or is actually built around that specificity, would that then affect the line of argument? As opposed to software that uses an interchangeable kind of content.

Edit: I'm just adding some more explanation to this in the hope of triggering interest.

In a work released under CC share-alike, we would be able to adapt or extend the work under the condition:

"Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you
may distribute the resulting work only under the same, similar or a
compatible license."
Similarly, in the GNU free documentation license (GFLD):
"All derivative works must be licensed under the same license."
Now if we are building a copyrighted computer program based on content that is released under an open license, is it possible that such open content can 'taint' the software program that is using it and require said program to be licensed under the same open license of the said content component.

The cause of concern is that some jurisdictions view software as any other literary work for copyright purposes. In this sense, can it be argued that the whole composed of the software program and the content it's using is a derivative work of the open license content component. Or conversely, is it safe to assume that such concern is unfounded.

Licensing Content Software Licensing

asked Sep 4 '12 at 15:51
Basel Shishani
106 points

2 Answers


To make sure I understand.. you're talking about the content being delivered via a piece of software changing the license of that software?

To answer, I'll give you some potential parallels to ponder:

  • Does reading the Bible - many (most?) versions are public domain - on a Kindle change how you can use that Kindle?
  • Does watching a movie on iTunes change iTune's licensing?
  • Does reading a print version of a magazine change any copyright/licensing? What if you read the same magazine online?
answered Jan 4 '13 at 07:51
Casey Software
1,638 points


I think you can see that the licenses (at least the ones you mentioned specifically) state that they must be released under the same license. As such, the answer to your question is, if you do build off of OS software under those two licenses you must release any derivative (that is software that has come from their software) under the same license. So in your case, your company would have to use the same os license.

answered Nov 5 '12 at 03:49
Randy E
632 points

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