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[dvd-discuss] Inspiration or infringement

Hello... This comes more from a programming perspective.

I'd posted a message a few days ago on a smalltalk list asking if anyone
knew how VW (a commercial proprietary smalltalk implementation) worked.
I was hoping to borrow a few tricks for when working on a different
(libre) implementation, squeak.

Someone there, mentioned that I would be a fool to do this, it would open
me up to liability and even jail time.

That inspired me to think on the issue some more...

What is inspiration, and what is 'evil copyright infringement'.

In science, the norm is to build upon the work of others. To use someone
elses tricks in your problem. One example, in computer science, the trick
of amortized analysis, has been borrowed from the splay-tree paper and
used to prove running-time bounds in a huge variety of other new

Even in music. One person spearheads a new style of music (say, sampling),
and other musicians take ideas from that and build their own music in that
new style.

One can legitimately claim that formal education's purpose is to
teach people tricks to inspire the solution to problems. Techniques
they can borrow because others had good results.

In computer games, after Warcraft and Command and Conquer, those inspired
a huge assortment of real time strategy games, which are still coming out.
Quake has inspired innumerable games.

Now, for the interesting cases.

There's N.K. Stouffer who is suing J.K. Rowling for copyright
infringement[*]. Harry Potter seems to match a few plot-elements and ideas
from Stouffer's comic books 'Larry Poter' or 'Rah and the Muggles' from
the early 80's. Even if Rowling was inspired by reading those comic books
15 years ago, is inspiration infringement? Or is it conditionally
infringement, depending on who has more money&power?

There's also the case of Wind Done Gone. Yes, it was blatantly inspired by
Gone with the Wind, which was ruled infringement (or at least had an
injuction against it).  (Whats the current status of it?)

Now, getting back to my origional point, when is inspiration infringement?

If one used the Wind Done Gone standard, could one legitimately claim that
every first person shooter since Castle Wolfenstein 3d has been a ripoff
of that game? Is every rap-group is a ripoff on the first rap group? I'd
say so, they all sound the same to me. :)

If one used the standard that Stouffer thinks should be used, it seems
that all inspiration would be infringement. I can see how some might
support such a standard. If you invent the first RTS, or FPS game, you can
stop all competion. If you're the first to use a neat trick, you can ban
all your competetiors from using that trick, etc...

So, when is inspiration infringement.


[*] http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:7Smy8MxtGG8:www.salon.com/books/wire/2001/11/03/rowling_suit/+harry+potter+copyright+infringement&hl=en

No DVD movie will ever enter the public domain, nor will any CD. The last CD
and the last DVD will have moldered away decades before they leave copyright.
This is not encouraging the creation of knowledge in the public domain.