1

If someone wanted to 'fork' a private company's license, could they legally do so?

That is to say, if, for instance, the company Grammarly found that significant portions of the company Evernote's EULA was worded better for their own use than the license they had been using, could they copy significant portions of it, legally, for their own use?

Sub question: are any or all legal documents copyright?

  • When you say it was "worded" better, do you mean something like "oh I like how they used word X, but I used Y, so I'm thinking about switching to use word X in my work as well." If it is something like that, then that is not 'copying' in any legal sense. This applies to vocabulary as well as common phrases, and so on. Colloquially we might say we "copied" a coined phrase or even "copied someone's style" of writing, for example, but those types of things are not reproductions of copyrighted works and imitating a writing style is not a derivative work of an original. Copyright does not apply. – Brandin Jan 18 at 9:31
  • @Brandin The question was inspired by this discussion of Grammarly v Evernote TOS's on Hacker News. – malan Jan 18 at 15:12
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To answer the question in your title: Yes, software licenses are copyrighted. They are written works that involve (significant, expert) creative effort to create.

The best solution would be for Grammarly to hire a lawyer and say "we want a new EULA. We think this one covers a number of points our current one doesn't".

Most legal documents will be copyright for the same reason (there may be a few that are so stereotypical that there is essentially no creative effort in putting them together).

  • So, essentially, common open source licenses are licensed to be free (e.g., MIT, GPL, etc.). Fascinating. You have to license a license for it to be free. – malan Jan 17 at 15:37
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    @malan Of course. You should start with the assumption that any piece of writing is copyright unless there is some positive reason (age, lack of creative effort, etc) that it isn't. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 17 at 17:37
  • @malan For GPL and other open source licenses, usually the license itself requires that you reproduce it verbatim, so that in itself is essentially a license to copy it. However, if you reproduced it but changed it subtley, that is probably not allowed, but you would have to look at the details (GPL permits adding some "additional permissions", for example). – Brandin Jan 18 at 9:29

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