Assume that someone creates a glossary with one word definitions extracted from a bilingual dictionary with multiple word definitions, choosing only one word to define every word in the other language. could that glossary be published without copyright infringement?

  • Well I would like to know about both punishment and infringement.
    – Didami
    Sep 17, 2016 at 21:57
  • @user6726 - its not as simple as that - because the law allows an exception for "Fair Use". DidamI - what jurisdiction are you in, and what is the purpose of the work ?
    – davidgo
    Sep 18, 2016 at 0:44
  • 1
    @DidamI - have a look at copyright.columbia.edu/basics/fair-use.html which gives an overview of "Fair Use" - if your usage falls in the scope of fair use, you are OK, if not, there could be civil and conceivably (but probably not) criminal penalties depending on your usage. You might be able to circumvent the whole issue by using a dictionary in the Creative Commons - for example Wictionary
    – davidgo
    Sep 18, 2016 at 0:54

2 Answers 2


I don't think the question has been put to the test in court. Words of a language are facts which are not copyright-protectable. But simply copying all of the headwords and definitions of a Finnish-English dictionary would be flagrant copyright violation. Randomly (via computer algorithm) extracting a subset of such entries is still copying, just not complete copying. However, you could extract a word or two plus a couple of translations, under the Fair Use exception. It's hard to know whether what you propose might fall under Fair Use, without knowing what you plan to do with the work, and what the original dictionary is. I think you would likely end up copying about 10% of the original, which is pretty extensive (disfavoring Fair Use); if you commercially exploited the result, that makes things worse, but if the dictionary is out of print that makes it better. The more creative your contribution and the greater the difference from the original, the greater the "transformative" nature of the work (supporting Fair Use). An obvious next step would be (if possible) to not just copy words and translations from one source, but to organize a new wordlist, where multiple dictionaries are used as data resources in creating a new dictionary-like object.

  • What if you get help from multiple dictionaries and pick only one word that you think suits best the subject of your glossary (let's say gardening)?
    – Didami
    Oct 4, 2016 at 19:02
  • Yes, my last point is that this would move further from "copying a protected work", to "creating a new work, by consulting facts reported in other protected works" (which is what researchers do all the time).
    – user6726
    Oct 4, 2016 at 19:56
  • Finally, do you think my last comment is closer to "copying a protected work" or "creating a new work ..." ?
    – Didami
    Oct 4, 2016 at 21:01
  • It's impossible to judge without seeing the product and resources used, but it strikes me as most like "creating a new work". Only a copyright attorney can give you a professional opinion.
    – user6726
    Oct 4, 2016 at 21:05
  • Another question, what if I use a single dictionary just for word pronunciations, considering that the glossary is at most around a fifth of a normal dictionary, is it fair use of the dictionary or not?
    – Didami
    Oct 5, 2016 at 19:07

I am unsure whether this would be related but facts and false facts are not copyright-able. Fred L. Worth vs Trivial Pursuit 1984, has ruled that facts are not able to be copyrighted due to them being facts.

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