[sf-lug] collections of data & copyright

lantechie@yahoo.com lantechie at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 14 06:53:28 PDT 2007

Excellent advice. Everyone steps into a cloud on this, and depending on a judge's interpretation of the law, you really don't know where you will end up. 

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Paoli <Michael.Paoli at cal.berkeley.edu>

Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2007 06:41:17 
To:sf-lug at linuxmafia.com
Subject: Re: [sf-lug] collections of data & copyright

Well, mere collections of data/information are often not copyrightable,
but in many cases, data collections as a whole are copyrightable.

E.g. when certain data is, and isn't included - especially when human
chosen by editing what to, and to not include, and not some simple common
algorithm, then it - as a whole - may be copyrightable, but that doesn't
make the data items within it copyrightable, but only the collection as
a whole (and its cover art, table of contents, its unique index and
how the data is set on the pages, etc.).  Examples towards the more
extreme ends of the spectrum - an encyclopedia is quite copyrightable.
Sure, it's mostly just basic facts/data, but exactly how it's written
and expressed, what is and isn't included, how it's presented, etc., makes
it quite copyrightable.  The same is true for the typical almanac and "book
of facts" - the data isn't copyrightable, but the work as a whole is (based
upon exactly what it chooses to include and not include, how it's presented,
indexed, etc.).  A typical phone book "white pages" is *barely* copyrightable.
The basic data in it isn't copyrightable, but the work as a whole is.  E.g.
someone can OCR scan all the listings, and present the text of the listings
in a quite uniform way (and not emphasizing any "advertising" features like
some stuff being in bold and/or red if someone paid extra money to be listed
that way, or preserving page numbers, etc.) and generally do so without
running into issues with copyright law.  On the other hand, copying the
work as a whole, including precise fonts, exactly what does and doesn't go
on what pages, covers and cover art, the specific index and page correlations,
the extra "advertising" features (stuff presented differently in the white
pages based upon customer having paid extra to the phone company), etc. -
doing something like that would generally be in violation of copyright law.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer.  These are just rough examples to give one
an idea.  Being on the "right" side of the law doesn't mean one won't get
one's pants sued off anyway.  When in doubt, and especially for
"edge"/borderline cases, getting good legal advice is well advised.

Quoting Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>:

> Quoting Catherine Jones (cathjone at eskimo.com):
> > Thanks, Rick and Jeff, for the clear position:
> > 
> > >Collections of data thus are not considered creative works, and do not
> > >give rise to copyright title. [not-a-lawyer legal disclaimer snipped]
> Well, what I was saying is that collections of data _per se_ are not
> deemed creative works.  That doesn't preclude someone fashioning a
> creative work from a collection of data.
> There was a famous US Supreme Court case, "Feist v. Rural Telephone
> Service", where Rural Telephone (a local telco) tried to prevent Feist
> from republishing its white-pages listings on copyright grounds.  Rural
> Telephone lost, on grounds that just arranging a set of names and
> telephone numbers in alphabetical order does not bring into existence a
> creative work within the meaning of the Copyright Act.  (See:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications_v._Rural_Telephone_Service)

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