I would like to understand if it is legal to make publicly available results/substantial parts of the content of a journal article/book that is not available in the public domain in the context of certain specific use cases that are described via examples below:

  • I use an algorithm that was recently published in a (non-open access) journal article in my software and provide the description of the algorithm in the documentation (expressed in my own words). The algorithm is not patented in any way and there is no software associated with the publication of the algorithm. I release the software under one of the open-source licenses, thus making the algorithm and its description publicly available, perhaps for the first time. Would I be doing something illegal?
  • There exists software that can be used to formalize mathematics. Examples include Isabelle, Coq, Agda. In general, such software can be used to translate mathematical argot to a (human readable) formal language. Suppose, I use one of these software packages to formalize a (non-open access) book, almost as it is written. I guess, this process could be seen as a translation of a book from one language to another. However, keep in mind that the original work is not a work of fiction, but mathematics. What would be the legal perspective on the matter of making such "formal proof document" available in the public domain?
  • 1
    I think you need to ask an IP lawyer, not a bunch of random academics. And note that laws vary by location. – Buffy Feb 22 at 17:43
  • @Buffy Thank you for your comment. I would have thought that similar situations arise so frequently in academic work that, by now, every academic would now the answer :). Moreover, I would expect this forum to be visited by a few academics working specifically in the area of IP law. I guess, there is no reason to take the question down for now. – user9716869 Feb 22 at 17:54
  • 2
  • @user9716869 know the answer, not now the answer... Academics, at least the sensible ones, listen to the IP lawyers when they ask for sdvice... – Solar Mike Feb 22 at 18:32
  • I think your question is a bit more complicated than most that arise here. Hence the advice to find a lawyer. If you are at a university, they probably have IP lawyers that can help if you have action items behind your request. – Buffy Feb 22 at 19:20

I'll answer the first question because that's what I'm familiar with. Copyright attaches to a concrete piece of text (or other ways of dissemination, such as music, but that's not relevant to us here). So, in your context, that would be (i) the paper that describes the software, and (ii) the source code of the software. But it does not apply to the idea that is behind the software, and consequently the copyright in the paper that describes the software does not also cover the software itself (unless, of course, you have put the software into supplemental matter for the paper and signed over copyright for that as well -- but you said that you didn't).

As a consequence, even though you have published the paper about the software, you still have the copyright of the software and can do with it as you please -- including making it open source.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you for your reply. I am not convinced that it does answer my question fully: I would be interested in whether the software could fall under the category of derivative work (please note that I did not state that the publication upon which the software is based was mine) and, thus, still violate some of the copyright laws. In any case, my question was closed for a, somewhat, invalid reason. I hardly have any desire to change the question because I believe that it is stated in the most appropriate manner. However, I can see that it might be slightly off-topic for this site. – user9716869 Feb 24 at 21:09
  • No, a software implementation of an algorithm described in a scientific paper is not a derivative work. It would be different if you had a software implementation of an algorithm described in a patent, but that's not what you describe the situation to be. In particular, once something is published in a scientific paper, it has become part of what a practitioner would consider common knowledge, and is no longer patentable. So your implementation of the algorithm can not violate a patent any more. – Wolfgang Bangerth Feb 25 at 0:01
  • (Unless, of course, the paper describes a patented algorithm; it shouldn't have been published in that case, but that happens.) – Wolfgang Bangerth Feb 25 at 0:01

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.