[kde-edu]: Possible legal issue with KVocTrain
hedlund at scripps.edu
Tue Feb 15 17:00:15 CET 2005
Through Ewald Arnold, the original author of KVocTrain, we have received a
request from the German publisher Langenscheidt to remove a piece of code
currently in KVocTrain, a program in the edu module currently maintained by
me. The code in question is a Perl script called langen2kvtml that converts
files from a proprietary format used by vocabulary learning software produced
by Langenscheidt to our own kvtml (xml) format.
More information about this request follows below, but I would with this like
to start a discussion about the removal request and also present my opinion
on the matter.
Having said that IANAL, my opinion is that we should deny the request and keep
the code in question. The decisive issue for me is a user's right to his
data. Using the Langenscheidt software the user can create his/her own data
files. The user has a right to the data in these files. We provide a
possibility for the user to access his/her data and use it with other
software. Langenscheidt's argument is that the code can be used to illegally
modify and distribute their copyrighted material. Even though this is to a
certain extent correct, the user's right to his own data files is greater.
This is Ewald Arnold's first message to me:
yesterday I got a mail from Langenscheidt (www.langenscheidt.de). They are a
german publishing house and sell dictionaries and vocabulary trainers.
Obviouly some user kept them busy and confused for a while when he asked them
for support for the langen2kvtml script which is part of kvctrain. As a
result they asked me to remove the script from further publications.
I am not legally experienced enough to tell if this demand can stand a legal
dispute but I personally don't want to find out myself ;-) Since I received
several mails claiming that the script didn't work for quite a long time
there is no loss anyway when removing it. I also ask you to remove it from
Maybe the script has been removed some rather long time ago and the
documentation has not been updated. Maybe this was the reason for this user
to ask Langenscheidt instead of one of the people around kvoc.
This topic in general might also be worth to discuss on the list. It is
certainly a bad idea to spread converted files. But from my point of view it
should be ok to provide converters for the reason of interoperability. But
one should also tell the people not to ask for support at the wrong place.
This is my response to him:
This is of course an interesting problem. As I see it they got fed up with
being asked to support a product that is not theirs (the script). As a result
they asked for its removal.
However (but IANAL), to me the script is not different from any other import
filter for any other file type. From what I can tell by visiting the
vokabeln.de site it is possible to create your own files in their format
using their software. It seems obvious that blocking the use of a proprietary
file format, take the MS .doc format as an example, in competitive products
is not possible. Thus, we would be in our right to provide this functionality
to our users in the same way other applications help users switch away from
the competition. This would argue in favor of keeping the script. I don't
think we should be too intimidated by their request.
Other things to consider:
1. Neither of us is the original author of the script. I don't know how that
affects our position.
2. The question of whether the script works or not. I haven't tested this, but
I know there is at least one bug report filed.
3. We are very late in a release cycle and changes to the documentation should
be very carefully considered.
Ewald then provided this additional information:
> result they asked for its removal.
he also wrote that they decline *every* request to use their files or formats.
I have been thinkig about writing them again to re-think their point of view
regarding open source and some potential advertisment for free. What I
already did in my response was to point him to the fact that they don't offer
products for free systems like linux even if there seems to be demand ;-)
> help users switch away from the competition. This would argue in favor of
> keeping the script. I don't think we should be too intimidated by their
The point is that the script is used to convert "their" files which are
covered by copyrights and only intended for use with their products. Similar
to CDs and other content. In the meanwhile virtually every tool to copy CDs
is forbidden by law.
> 1. Neither of us is the original author of the script. I don't know how
> that affects our position.
probably not as it became part of the distribution.
> 2. The question of whether the script works or not. I haven't tested this,
> but I know there is at least one bug report filed.
from the various mails I conclude that they changed their file format at least
> Do you want me to take this entire discussion to the mailing list? I think
> that would be a good idea.
yes, certainly. This topic is too important for a decision by a single person
and of general interest. It also affects the KDE project as a whole. In the
KDE community there should be some persons with more legal knowledge and
experience. Probably the people at Langenscheidt can be convinced to change
their mind when they see their benefit. I personally would prefer some kind
of permission, even it were not necessary from a legal point.
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