[sf-lug] collections of data & copyright

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Sep 14 09:23:13 PDT 2007

Quoting Michael Paoli (Michael.Paoli at cal.berkeley.edu):

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

Actually, copyright extends only to creative (expressive) elements, not
to the data per se.

> 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.).

You're citing the expressive elements.


> 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.

You're citing the expressive elements.

> 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.). 

You're citing the expressive elements -- and, by the way, referring to a
special type of copyright title called "compilation copyright", which
recognises the title that, e.g., an anthology editor gains if he merely
selects and arranges other people's works.

> A typical phone book "white pages" is *barely* copyrightable.

The listings themselves are not -- per Feist.  It is easy to make an
unauthorised but lawful copy of the _listings_ in a set of white pages,
provided you write substitute organisational material (front matter,
table of contents, covers, etc.)

> The basic data in it isn't copyrightable, but the work as a whole is.

Your term "the work as a whole" doesn't really mean anything, and is
misleading in this context.  The truth of the matter is that the work's
expressive elements, only, are always those encumbered by copyright.
Non-expressive (non-creative) elements are not.  That way of thinking of
things is much simpler, and has the advantage of actually being the way
judges apply the law.

Cheers,                     Peter G. Neumann:  "Mars has been a tough target."
Rick Moen                   Harlan Rosenthal:  "That's because the Martians keep
rick at linuxmafia.com         shooting things down."   RISKS Digest, v. 20, #59&60

More information about the sf-lug mailing list