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Topic: copyright for sudokus ?
Replies: 15   Last Post: Sep 16, 2005 2:41 PM

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Arthur J. O'Dwyer

Posts: 91
Registered: 12/13/04
Re: copyright for sudokus ?
Posted: Sep 15, 2005 2:49 PM
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(SPOILER for today's NYT crossword follows, by the way.)

On Thu, 15 Sep 2005, guenter wrote:
> Proginoskes wrote:
> >guenter wrote:
> >> I'm curious whether you can successfully claim copyright
> >> for a particular set of sudokus [...]

> >
> > Check out how crossword puzzles are handled. They, too, can be
> > generated by computer, so whatever applies to them SHOULD apply to
> > Sudoku. (I say "should" because I'm not a lawyer.)

>
> yes, thanks. Apparantly people are claiming for copyright on
> crossword puzzles even more aggressively than for sudokus !
>
> There could be some differences though:
> Crossword puzzles only work in one language, while sudokus
> are international. Sudokus are important for science too,
> while crossword puzzles aren't.


Um... I beg your pardon? Since when are 9x9 magic squares "important
for science"? :D

> Crossword puzzles depend on some man-made word-lists,
> while sudokus are given by nature/math.
> The words have a meaning, so there are special crossword puzzles
> for old people, for religious people, .. Each newspaper
> has their special audience.


Right, but more importantly, if you look at any modern newspaper
crossword (and here I'm talking about American-style), you'll notice
that each one has what crossword designers call a "theme," which often
involves wordplay or puns. For example, the NYT crossword today has
the theme "Up", with theme entries ALL DRESSED, WHOOPING IT, JOHNNY JUMP,
and WHICH WAY IS. This sort of creativity is generally what crossword
designers recognize as copyrightable, and not the "fill" per se.
(The "fill" is the particular choice of short words to fill in the white
squares that aren't part of the longer theme entries. It can be generated
by computer these days, but IME usually isn't.)

> Sudokus only vary in difficulty.

More precisely: Sudokus only vary in which squares are given to start
with. Any solvable sudoku puzzle can be solved by logical deduction
(possibly involving backtracking), requiring no effort on the part of
the solver. This is why I'm not a sudoku fan, but it's also why I think
sudoku designs and crossword designs are fundamentally different.

> So you have more chances to include some individual touch
> into creating or selecting crossword puzzles than with sudokus.


Yep. In crosswording, it's generally accepted that themes and fills are
inviolate (in legal terms, "copyrightable"; but even in a world without
copyright, it would still be wrong to copy someone else's theme verbatim),
and grids (the particular arrangement of black and white squares) are not.
Some crossworders just keep a library of old grids to use for new puzzles,
rather than trying to make up a new grid every time.

And then of course you have the clues themselves. Good puns tend to get
stolen or reinvented on a regular basis ("Brief correspondence" or "Short
note" for LTR, for example), but that's accepted. In cryptic crosswords,
I'd expect the copying of individual clues would be viewed as shady.

In short: IMNSHO, crossword etiquette matches existing copyright law
fairly well --- the creative bits are inviolate, and the uncreative or
computer-generable bits aren't. And since sudoku puzzles have /no/
creative input, and are /completely/ computerizable, I'd say that
copying individual sudokus should be allowed.
Copying a whole set of sudokus that one person put together, though,
probably not. It's like copying Sports Illustrated's list of the top 50
athletes --- sure, you're allowed to write down the athletes' names, but
if you put down all the same ones the magazine did and then call it
"Bob's Top 50 List," that's considered plagiarism.

HTH,
-Arthur



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