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Who Owns The Database? 104

dkm writes "The Boston Globe has an interesting article on legislation in Congress to make databases copyrightable. " Copyright issues are so nice and stickey; but at least it's not patents. Yet.
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Who Owns The Database?

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  • They can just refuse to furnish you service and be done with it.
  • So picture this situation (and if they make db's copyrightable, it'll happen) - Some company goes out and makes a db of all the poisons in the world, as well as the known antitdotes and treatments (tada - Poisindex!) - it's a great idea, and they've done a lot of work to get all that information together. So now they copyright the information to protect their work. Understandable, to a degree...

    Now along comes another company (or even a college) who decides that it's a great idea to have such a thing. So they do all the same research, and come up with the same information...

    Then along comes Micromedex (the group that made Poisindex), and they sue the second group, claiming infringement/copyright violation.

    If you allow the data in these databases to be copyrighted, then you're basically giving the owners of the database complete control of that data - and if you want that information, it doesn't matter how you get it, 'cause you're going to end up paying them (or getting sued by them) for it. After all, once they own the rights to the data in their database, who's to say EXACTLY how the next group that wants to use the data, or some portion of it, got it?

    -it's a nickname, not a statement of support for the organization - get over it.

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 )
    The GPL may help here. If a database is copyrightable.. wouldn't that consitute a derived work, and as such falls under the terms of the GPL?

    Some food for thought...


  • The US constitution doesn't treat intellectual property like other forms of property. It gives the creators exclusive right to their works in order to provide incentive for creation.

    Now supposedly the fact that data compilations can be copied freely removes all incentive for their creation.

    Says who?

    Why the creators of data compilations, of course!
  • And in this instance, the trusted source - the originator should have no trouble securing licenses (read: make money) with the people who need this data, and need it to be accurate.

    And if someone copies their data, labeling it as being 'the original' it would be no different than someone copying and say, selling RedHat 6. They need to relabel and say 'containing parts in whole or peicemeal from RedHat 6'

    Blah, blah, blah..
  • I keep hearing so much about how Americans are doing so well, how strong our economy is, how much everybody has. Why then, is greed becoming the defining trait of our culture? Are not Bill Gates' tens of billions enough? I kid you not, we as a culture and as a country are headed down a very ugly road; should we persist, we most certainly will get what we deserve.

    Good point, but your looking at it logically - "We have so much already, why is greed for more our dominant trait?". Unfortunately, humans don't operate logically. Money and material and power are becoming the measure of our value, and as such, no one could ever have enough.

    I keep hearing the argument, if it's not protected, why would anyone do it? If patents didn't protect those who innovate, why would anyone innovate? Of course, the assumption always comes down to money. People do what they do for economic/political benefit. Maybe moving into the information age will require a changed basis for defining value. Money works for physical materials that follow the law of conservation of matter, but perhaps not for something that can be copied at the cost of a few electrons.

    Not that I know what the solution is, just seems we need to find other motivators for innovation/work. After all, where will be when someone does finally figure out how to interface a computer with a brain? Then those intellectual property laws are going to be a BITCH!
  • You are advocating something that is worse than patents on software! The main part of a database design reflects reality, and therefore, is something that other people will come along with too, when they model the same kind of problems.

    It's not because you are the first one to think of modeling an existing problem, that you have the right to ask money of anybody else working in the same problem area.

    Worse, it's not because you are the first to run to the patent office that you are allowed to aks money from other people.
  • Lets say I assemble a database. Let's say it's a dog racing database. I have a little perl script that hooks up to the local newspaper's web page at the end of each day and grabs the dog racing results.

    Lets say another company assembles a dabase with exactly the same data in it. Say, because they get it direct from the dog track. The fields will be pretty much the same and may even be named the same thing in some cases. Certainly enough to make a case for plagarism.

    Are either one of us in violation of each other's copyright if we try to sell that data? Can they sue me if I try to post that data on the web? And am I in violation of the a copyright on the newspaper side of things?

    Current laws are not suitable for the digital age. We need a complete redesign. The only people who are benefiting from this are the lawyers.

  • Why won't this just die?

    If I went to Washington every year and begged for a license to print money, how many times would I have to ask before they told me to shut the hell up?
    Yet, every year IP companies go down on their hands and knees and tell stories of woe and doom, and Washington's still listening...

    I know elected officials don't tend to be the brightest guys on the block, but even they must have figured out that Mickey Mouse would still have been created if Disney hadn't anticipated 1000 years of continuous cash flow in return...

    Remember, the top officials in companies pushing for these "reforms" must also be real human beings. Make sure they know that increasing IP control will strangle every new creation they see around them. Even the most Scrooge-like Disney executive must be made to understand why the endless extensions of copyright's frontier are a BAD THING
  • Actually, the Supreme Court has held, in Feist v. Rural Telephone Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991) 499 U.S. 340 [], that collections of data that are not at all creative are not copyrightable. The West Publishing Group, the folks that publish most of the court decisions in the US have been pushing for copyright-like protection for years. It looks like they've finally managed to pay off enough people to get it.

    The real problem is that now West and their ilk will "own" the public data they collect. Because they data is not generally available through other sources, everyone will have to pay for supposedly public information.
  • I keep hearing so much about how Americans are doing so well, how strong our economy is, how much everybody has. Why then, is greed becoming the defining trait of our culture? Are not Bill Gates' tens of billions enough? I kid you not, we as a culture and as a country are headed down a very ugly road; should we persist, we most certainly will get what we deserve.

    Well said. And, it's all being done under the cover of the Clinton Whitehouse.

    People had better wake up out there. Just because Bill "feels your pain" doesn't mean that he and the rest of the Democrats and Republicans are not selling you out BIG time.

    This decade makes the Reagan '80s look like the Flower Power '60s with regard to serving big interests and greed.

    Here's one of many examples. Big Mergers. You hear that the '80s was the decade of the Big Merger. What's happened in the '90s?

    Biggest 3 (!) Oil Mergers - Exxon/Mobil, BP/Amoco, Shell US/Texaco 'downstream merger, everything but exploration'. This last one was totally stealth, not 1 in 1000 people know, I would bet, that the Shell or Texaco station on the corner now belongs to a holding company made up of Shell/Texaco/Saudi Aramco (SA, east of the Mississippi only).

    Biggest Telecom Merger - MCI/WorldComm

    Biggest Auto Merger - Daimler/Chrysler

    Biggest Media Merger - CBS/Viacom. This last one was totally covered over by the Media we hope will protect us. The reason? The Media bosses want the right to merge as they see fit. Did anyone catch the CBS/Viacom execs press conference about the merger? They bragged that there was no organization like them, big enough to compete with them and that the new company would be unassailable. Isn't this exactly why we have anti-trust legislation? To prevent the unassailably large organization?

    Biggest Financials merger - Citibank/Travelers - this one is unbelievable as well. It is illegal under the Banking Act of 1932 for a Bank to be in Insurance like this. The Justice Dept. is turning a blind eye to it while Citibank/Travelers work to get the law changed.

    Now, under more Media cover, the extension of Intellectual Property Rights.

    There's absolutely no need for this. Read the Constitution. Intellectual Property law is not about ensuring 'fairness' to those who create IP, it's about encouraging the creation of new IP. Databases are being built at an all time record rate and we need legislation to encourage their production? I would like to see the contribution record for all of those supporting this legislation with regard to those who would benefit from it (big Media, corporations that compile databases, research firms, etc.).

  • IANAL but I've looked at the GPL a bit and the underlying feeling I get is that the only real condition for redistrubiting a package is that you can not in any way, shape or form prohibit the end user from having the same rights you do to distribute the package.

    Shipping a distribution of Linux with any other terms is effectively illegal (Do you hear me, Caldera?) Doing so opens you to a lawsuit and even though your packages are free (so your competitior might argue no damage had been done) the fact is that damage is being done in terms of the open source community and the fact that you are being forced to stand up and defend that community against this illegal (immoral and reprehensible) action.

    That is not to say that you can't roll your own software, bundle it in a dist, and restrict copying of that software. Redhat has done this all along -- their official commercial dist would buy you some additional goodies which were restrictively licensed. There is also nothing that says I can't create a dist and include restrictively licensed software for free, (in theory) preventing the wholesale distribution of the entire dist (But I could not restrict you from breaking out the GPLed packages and passing them on.)

    whew... All this legal stuff gives me a headache.

  • Fantastic! Wonderful! I like the way you think!

    I love the Internet because the availability of information. I can learn so much more on the Internet than I can at any ONE library simply because I can access ALL of them on the WWW.

    People on the Internet, people of all ages -- all need to be treated like adults and they (WE) all need to accept the responsibility as well. We need to be able to gather our own information -- to form our own decisions. And to take responsibility for acting on the decisions we made -- instead of "crying foul" because *WE* made our decision on less than complete information AND THEN
    a) blame "them" for withholding information --
    b) blame "them" for publishing false information --
    c) blame "them" for putting a "spin" on the information that mislead us --
    d) etc., etc., etc.,

  • The logical flaw you note can be explained as follows. Certain *types* of data compilation today have no incentive, while other types of compilation (as you point out) obviously do.

    Currently, copyright is the main legal protection for collections of information, but is not sufficient to prevent people from copying your facts and changing the formatting/expression slightly. Instead, the main pragmatic protection today is to maintain an ever-increasing array of facts, keeping them up-to-date in the most timely manner reasonable order to increase barriers to entry. This is true of Yahoo, financial information, encyclopedias, etc.

    Thus for content-compilation companies, without DB protection, it's really only worthwhile to compile certain types of data: the so-huge-its-hard-to-copy or updated-so-frequently-one-needs-many-collectors types of databases that provide non-legal pragmatic protection through barriers-to-entry.

    Of course, this implies that DB protection has a downside too.

    As a data compiler myself, I can tell you that if this law passes, it will *reduce* the incentives that data compilers have to keep their compilations up to date.

    Currently, a content producer updates the content (and the user interface to the content) because
    A) the customer wants it, and
    B) to protect their business from copying-competitors.

    If a database of facts becomes protected under law, half the incentive for keeping timely complete information disappears and companies will be more inclined to milk the customers of their existing information data-mines. As Reed-Elsevier and others realize, this will increase the underlying value of their core assets, since there is a significantly increased barrier to entry: facts in the databases will have to be re-acquired by upstart competitors, not just re-compiled. Not only do data-compiler asset values, go up, but customers of the data-compiler face the same barriers-to-entry of having to re-acquiring relevant facts themselves. Thus intrinsic value (the cash you can get out of a company if it stops operations today, discounted) of data-compilation companies goes up. When intrinsic values go up, data-compiler stocks thus go up.

    It's all about barriers to entry. Food for thought.

  • >Read this to learn what the Supreme Court has said recently about copyrighting "facts"

    Seth, you should tell a little more about it; this decision is huge. A unanimous Supreme Court here ruled that extending copyright protection to databases was not merely current law, but would violate the Constitution. While fat cats might buy changes to the law to help make more money (for example, the extension of copyright duration, which stretches the "limited time" phrase in the Constitution to near breaking point), this particular change would require changing the Constitution. Somehow, I don't think that will happen.

    So, the only issue is how much will be spent on lawyers getting any changes to the law declared unconstitutional, an annoyance to be sure, but not nearly as bad as if it could become law.

    Database collators can make money by not distributing the entire database en masse, or by doing it for people who really need it for a fee.
  • "" seems appropriate for your attitude ...

    Bottom line... We don't need laws. We need a more enlightened attitude.

    Unless you're able to write arbitrary information into peoples' minds (I know some people who'd love that technology), you're stuck with laws. Why do you think groups of people form governments and laws volitionally? Because they agree on standards and then write them down and maintain them. Sometimes those standards change, other times they don't. Abortion used to be illegal. A case goes through that says otherwise and bang, it's legal.

    You want to fight intellectual property laws, go ahead -- I'm not behind you. Why? Because if those responsible for's database of links weren't able to protect it in someway, they wouldn't have bothered to make it (and maintain it) in the first place and I wouldn't have it to use. Open development is good -- idea sharing is good -- technology sharing is better. However, there are things that ought to be protected in the short term so that an individual or group is able to profit from their work if they so desire.

    Can I create a proprietary interface to video displays that's better than everyone else's and sell it without showing people how to use it? Sure. Will I make money? Some ... initially ... until others invent opposing ones that are more open. It's up to companies to realize that some things should be 'open' to the public (developing public at least) and other things should not.

    I think it is you who needs the new perspective ...
  • In the days of early copyright law, it made SENSE that databases shouldn't be because, as was so eleganly said above Copyrights are to protect the creator of intellectual property. Software, art, literature are the products of the intellect. A collect of data is not.

    However, today collections of data ARE a product of intellect. The value isn't in the data itself, but in the sheer volume and ease of manipulation OF that data. This is where the whole industry of data mining and data warehousing comes from. Databases are products, things, now as much as cars or computers are. They are as valuable as a or a book, so they should be copyrightable. It seems silly to me that a Hoover's Handbook of American Business is copyrightable where a database with the same data in it isn't.

    But there's a caveat. They shouldn't be copyrightable to the point where someone cannot go back and redo the research to get the data themselves, but you oughtn't be able to make your living off of someone elses database without reimbursing them.

    IM (highly unpopular) O
  • Note that this is all about "copyrighting" facts. Copyright currently protects the expression of an idea, the exact words you used to express it. This bill would allow the protection of basic facts of life. If, for example, you compiled a database of what the rainfall for Washington, D.C. was every day, and anybody else anywhere published the rainfall for D.C., even if they gathered the information independently, you could sue them - and win - because you had "protected" that information in your "hard-earned" database and they had "stolen" it.

    Official sports scores are tallied by the official league scorekeepers. Unofficial ones are tallied by whoever is watching the game. Nobody would be able to legally report sports scores without permission from (and payment to) the league, even if they tallied it themselves, because these facts are part of a giant "Sports Score Database".

    In other words: if this passes, you can prevent anyone from publishing FACTS about the history of the world, expressed in any manner, as long as you collect those facts into your database. Sports scores. Court decisions. Scientific data. Natural phenomena. Time of sunrise. High tide. Your medical history. Anything that can be expressed as a collection of data, you can legally be prevented from saying or publishing if someone with more money and more lawyers than you gets there first. The first person to publish the periodic chart of the elements gets to prevent everyone else from publishing this database of facts - no joke. What's hydrogen's atomic weight? Sorry, can't tell you unless you pay a fee to the database owner.

    This is a radical, radical departure from previous law, which protected expressions rather than facts. It is being pushed by the biggest database owners in the world, who see fantastic profits behind it. If this passes, my god! Forget buying stock in, run out and buy stock in Reed-Elsevier, world's largest scientific publisher. They will own science.

    Michael Sims
  • jkorty [] wrote
    The article mentioned one database company that gathers together Massachusetts court records and then charged fees for viewing. In the perfect, future world, each court would instead make the raw data of all its decisions available directly on the web. Researchers then mine this raw data to their heart's content. In this scenerio there is no place for database compilation company to insert added value.

    Conceptually this argument makes sense. However, the implementation may easily be hijacked. The cost of retrofitting computer databases and the associated infrastructure (sysadmins, hardware, software) is going to impose a major cost on the public coffers. I can easily see private providers stepping into to offer "free" web sites in return for "exclusive access". One example is an enterprising soul offering discounted high school application hosting in return for ads and access to a captive audience of school kids and teachers. Another example was the recent attempted licensing of (Californian?) license numbers to mass marketers. Would you be willing to hostage your legal system to similar schemes? All we can hope is that some clued-up clerks are knowledgeable about OpenSource so that the implementation as well as content is open to public scrutiny. As they say, the devil is in the details of implementation.

    I suspect I would not be the only person concerned about the conflict between public and private data collection. With federal databases, at least there are some legistlative guidelines and open media scrutiny of public office. Only vigilent watch of corporate practices can avoid similar abrogations of privacy rights in the private sphere. As other companies have shown, controlling the source of information whether news or publicity is akin to sitting on a gold mine, especially with the increasing popularity of spin-doctoring. If and when the legal system becomes subverted by vested interests, you might as well emigrate for the law is (supposedly) the only protection the weak have from oppression by the majority (assuming a public gun-fight is overkill for making a protest).

  • by Christopher B. Brown ( 1267 ) <> on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @03:31AM (#1669951) Homepage
    I think the point that you're trying to make is that the expiry dates for the "protections" provided by current mechanisms are somewhat too long.

    Supposing there were some equivalent to copyright that retained proprietary rights to software and/or data that expired, putting the material into the public domain, after (say) five years, this would provide a substantially better "regime" than the present situation where:

    • Copyright protects for longer than an author's lifetime, and corporations are trying to turn it into perpetual control, and
    • Patents protect for longer than anyone could conceivably wait for an "Internet technology."

    I'm not sure what the "excuse" would be for cutting the expiry times; in order to push this through legal channels, it would have to be shown that this provided some benefit over the present "expiry regime."

  • Back to the old GNU `is programming a manufacturing or service activity?' chestnut. The incentive to create this data in a service activity is different, namely I cannot provide my service unless the object of that service exists: people who need the data have the incentive to create it.

    What I think is wrong with the manufacturing analogy is that it is an unnecessarily inclusive view of property: the minimal view of prpoerty is those property rights necessary to avoid conflict over resources, but intellectual property involves no such conflict: in copying your code I do not deny you use of it.

    The usual argument for intellectual property one actually hears is: we will lose revenue if copying persists. So what? Southern plantation owners lost revenue when slavery was abolished. The law shouldn't be there to protect potential revenues of established interests.

    BTW I am not a libertarian: I am a follower of Hume on these issues.
  • I dimly recall following a discussion of the
    earilar bill on, so I
    guess I'm an expert.

    IIRC the US constitution explicitly gives
    Congress authority to make patent & copyright law
    but this is neither - it's based on a different
    part of the constitution (regulation of interstate
    commerce ? ).

    It doesn't work like patents or copyrights,
    it's a whole new can of worms.

    One lawyer posted at length on why it is
    "bad law".
    Apparently "bad law" means law that will make
    a lot of lawyers filthy rich.
  • Could I make a small database with one item (my personal info), copyrite it, and then sue anybody who has this info within their database? I thinking mostly of people who sell lists to direct marketers and such.
  • Solution: infringe on everyone's patents and
    copyright *but* earn no profit from it. One will
    thus be rendered judgment proof.

    Oya, the person who submitted this article seems to imply copyrights are somehow more palatable than patents. I can't think of a reason why since copyright monopolies last for the life of the author plus 70 years versus the 20 for a patent. Also, it is harder to obtain a patent. Perhaps he is just referring to the lunacy of the current patent administrators in their patenting of obvious ideas with much prior art. This is different than saying patents are more invidious than copyrights. In the sofware arena, the distinction between copyrights and patents nearly disappears. Where copyrights apply to specific works of authorship and patents apply to ideas registered with the USPTO in the specified manner, in software both works of authorship and the ideas are so easy to duplicate and proliferate that enforcing monopolies of the fruits of intellect becomes impracticable.

    Prediction: the only workable way to regulate the internet will be to treat it as a separate legal jurisdiction, much like we do with international waters. It will be governed by treaties rather than domestic regulations. In this context an international standards body will determine patentablity and copyrightablity. This will lead to more equitable rules on the subject. Because the need for this method of regulation will emerge from a perceived impracticability in regulating the thing we will see a minimalist approach to regulation (i.e., similar to Hong Kong's laissez faire policies).

  • Banking records are owned by the bank, as are medical records by the doctor, etc - The 5th Circuit court (about 4 years ago..I don't have the citation handy) ruled that, since you can be compelled to produce copies of these records, and not the bank, that the records are yours and the persons who hold them are "custodians" of those records. They must follow your directives within the extent of the law. The fact that the law gives them certain, automatic, priviliges with relation to these records does not surrender your ownership.

    It'll be interesting to look up this 5th Circuit case -- does it mean that people have copyright over their banking/medical records? Besides, I still don't see what rights do I have as the owner of these records. I cannot tell the bank to destroy them, I have no control over what the bank does with the information, etc.

    In addition to that, my major point stays valid. If the bank misuses the information you do not sue it for theft or for copyright infringement -- you sue it under tort law which has nothing to do with propery.

    "Control presumes possession" NOT! - If this were not true, then the entire ability to arrest suspects based upon their possession of an illegal substance would be moot.

    Not true. The law specifies that the possession of illegal substance is a misdemeanor/felony -- it makes no difference who actually owns the drugs. In this case ownership is irrelevant.

    When you steal a car, you now control and possess that car, however illegally, until it is returned to the original owner.

    Exactly my point. You control and possess this car, but you do not own it. Thank you for a good example.

    Use of a mail address - I don't think I was clear: When I say that an address is mine, I mean it is mine to do with what I like, including sending and receiving mail with that address on it.

    You are still not clear. I can perfectly well send mail with your address on it -- I don't need your permission for that. As to receiving mail, again, you receive mail because you own/rent the physical location to which mail is being delivered, not because you have intellectual property over the address.

    The fact that the address is my property precludes others from receiving mail at my address without my consent.

    No. You are confused. Others cannot receive mail at your address because you own the *property* at that address, not because you own the address itself. Consider dynamic IP addressing. You receive packets at your assigned IP because you own the machine which receives the packets, not because you own a (temporary) IP address as intellectual property.

    Placing transactions on bank records - Since they are my records, they will have only my transactions.

    That's a tautology. Your records are those with your transactions. Not your transactions are by definition not part of your records. Again, this has nothing to do with property.

  • by Bryce ( 1842 )
    The GPL may help here. If a database is copyrightable.. wouldn't that consitute a derived work, and as such falls under the terms of the GPL?

    Now there's an idea... copylefting data to be collected into databases. If this database law passes, it can be used to combat itself:

    "The information in this database may be redistributed and modified freely, and may be incorporated in part or in whole into other collections of data, provided that the resultant larger work also abide by the terms of this license."

    Then, take a bunch of addresses (or whatever), put them in a database under this license and make it widely available. Anyone who produces a database including these items now must follow your licensing scheme. ;-)

  • While you are right that financial investments of various kinds may require legal protection in order not to be destroyed, it doesn't necessarily follow that the mechanism of copyright is the most appropriate solution.

    Several people have made references to the original ideas behind copyright: To encourage talented minds to create works of art for the benefit of society as a whole. While the law implementing copyright will have to be a little more complicated than that, I see no reason to depart from that basic principle.

    Does the english word "copyright" really describe what it's all about? Compare it with a few other languages:

    • French: Droit d'Auteur (right of the author)
    • German: Urheberrecht (right of the "originator", I think)
    • Swedish: Upphovsrätt (right of "origin")

    In contrast to these, the term "copyright" refers to what that right entitles you to do, not what person owns or what fact establishes that right in the first place. I believe this difference in semantics may contribute somewhat to the reasoning about these issues in english-speaking versus other countries, though there are probably many other factors involved as well.

    For instance, in Sweden the copyright resulting from work made for hire normally stays with the author, unless something else was agreed beforehand. In the USA, I believe it's the other way around.

    I may have invested a lot of money and human labour into the compilation of a catalogue of a million stars in the sky, but I can't really say that my vast tables constitute an intellectual effort, even though their only purpose is to support intellectual activities such as scientific research (as opposed to, say, commercial tourist travel). To get my investment back, I would expect those who benefit from the catalogue to pay a reasonable fee for their use of it, unless of course my government is willing to fund it in return for it being released to the public domain.

    While any controls on the use of said catalogue would probably boil down to limitations on copying, I'm not sure the traditional concept of copyright is appropriate here. There is no author and no intellectually creative effort, only lots of money spent on a tedious task, telescope usage fees, and photographic plates. It doesn't make sense to relate the commercial value of the catalogue to the year the last person involved in the project died (whether he was the supervisor or merely cleaned the photographic equipment). It's actually not much different from producing bulk steel, and steelworks certainly don't need copyright protection!

    Therefore, when people suggest that you should have the ability to "copyright" databases not because of any intellectual creativity vested in them, but simply due to the financial burden of establishing them, I ask that you carefully consider whether this has anything in common with the idea that the descendants of a successful author should be able to collect royalties from his production 70+ years after his death, or whether you can devise other legal mechanisms to achieve the intended result.

  • If the emergency room needed such a database, then they have the motivation to create one.

  • The databases, you are talking about, are not available to the public -- they are secret and therefore have completely different kind of protection.
  • Actually the world wide web and Internet are a kind of database. So who owns the copyright?

    Al Gore?


    (Oh he just invented it, he didn't actually create the gathered information, [or did he?!?])
  • (just had to get 2nd post ;-)
    if databases are made copyrightable, there's a good chance that copyrighted database software for linux will produce databases that are copyright, limiting how they can be used... this is a bad thing!
  • I feel for companies you lose their sales to an errant web publisher. But to use the analogy that appeared in the article, what happens when you want to write a page about (say) the Spitting Cobra, including antidotes to its poison. If you take the information from a published source (just one item of information out of several hundred) would you still be breaking the law under a tougher copyright law?
  • by schporto ( 20516 )
    I thought if something was copyrighted then any copying of it was an infringement on the copyright. I.e. the copyrighted book they were talking about. Someone put it on disk. Most books I've seen say something like "No part of this book my be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission" (whoops guess I just violated that:). So how could the court rule in favor of the disk publisher?
    Really though if you don't want info to be redistributed then you better state that clearly. The realtors complaining that someone can take the info they posted in their window and put it on the web, well of course they can. You put it in the public view. Your competitors could walk up and write them down too. Typically if something is viewable by the public and not marked with a "redistribution is illegal" statement then its fair game I think.
  • I can copywrite them and make a fortune huh?
  • If you site the original source and only use a quantity small enough not to replace the original it should fall under fair use. An example is using a chapter of a book on one narrow subject in a class, or taking a definition to site in a paper.

    There have been different moves nationally and internationally to limit fair use or remove it for a micro payment scheme. All have so far failed, but with international standardization of copyrights and patents on the horizon I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes an issue again.
  • Probably not, but you should include a reference to the database itself. I don't know the law, but using one piece of information from a book or a newspaper does not violate the copyright, but you do need to reference your sources.
  • by Kaa ( 21510 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @02:00AM (#1669974) Homepage
    Ability to claim ownership of information just because you organized it into a database is a dangerous thing. The danger is that information that used to free will find itself in "owned" databases and so will stop being free. That is not a good thing.

    Besides, the laws regarding it will necessarily be either very vague or quite arbitrary. Let's say I compiled a list of all cow manure suppliers in my area and put it on the web. This is now a database, worthy of protection. Can other people copy the whole database? Not under the proposed law. What about one address? two addresses? five addresses? What if another guy goes to yellow pages and compiles his own list? Will he be required to prove "clean-room" conditions? What if he compiles his own and then cross-checks it against mine?

    Lawyers will be very happy.

  • While databases really couldn't be patented (not the data that is) I'd rather see that then a copyright. Patents expire and then become available to the general public to extend the state of the art. Copyrights can last an awful long time and can be stickier in many different ways.

    Of course databases have never been copyrightable before. Collections of data were just that. Your formating, layout, or other presentation could be, but not the collection of data. Granted many copyright holders used armies of lawyers to make people act as if their databases were copyrighted just becuase who can afford to fight it. The ARRL has done this multiple times with their repeater directories (that's why you can't find it online), and I think it's been done with different sports scores with varying amount of success.

    Copyrights are to protect the creator of intellectual property. Software, art, literature are the products of the intellect. A collect of data is not.
  • Small nitpick, copywrite != copyright, thus copywritten != copyrighted.

    copywritten, if I'm not mistaken, refers to actual text/data/whatever being copy-written to some medium; copyright(ing) refers to the protection of intellectual property.

    I've made the same mistake in the past ;).
  • Key phrase there was certain databases.
    I'm pretty sure the vast majority of people here would be up in arms if all databases were open. What you say? No they wouldn't? Think about all the db's out there that have info on you. Credit card companies? You want everyone to have access to all your credit card numbers? What about doctor's databases? Hey no need for a piss test at an employeer he can just look it up cuz the db is open.
    Yes I agree that certain db's need to be open. But only certain ones. And the problem is any law created will have a loop hole in it. Copyrights are bad cuz they could be applied to any db (if they could be applied to a db). Completely free is bad for reasons above. I don't know where the appropriate middle ground lies, but there must be one.
  • The article is surprisingly single sided. Incredibly bad jounralism.
  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @01:54AM (#1669980)
    Stallman wrote a feature for Linux Today over a month ago on this subject here []. As you might expect, he's strongly in favor of open databases.

    I certainly understand why someone who compiled a data base would feel ripped off if someone copied it for profit, or maintained an out of date mirror that caused harm. On the other hand you can see how great public good can come from free availability of certain databases. Perhaps the government should exercise eminent domain over the databases that need to be public?
  • So, unless I'm understanding this wrong, I could copy the format


    in a file, and if anyone used that format, I could sue? *boggles at the concept*
  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @02:11AM (#1669982) Homepage
    I see us, as a society, heading for a situation where every facet of our lives will be dominated by intellectual property law. Want to think about "physics"? Sorry ma'am, we own that word. You'll have to pay us $5 every time you use it.

    The problem our society is facing is that information has gotten radically easier to reproduce. It use to be that if you wanted to reproduce a "database" (then usually in book form) you would have to go to great effort and expense to typeset it, then print it, then distribute it.

    None of these could be done casually, and it simply wasn't possible to easily undercut the original publishers. The problem is that computer technology has changed that. I can duplicate your whole database, world-wide, in a matter of minutes.

    So what is the solution? Not more laws!!! I think that, ultimately, we are going to have to accept that IP is an obsolete concept -- indefensible in an electronic world. Everything is going to have to become open source. Emergency rooms need a database of antidotes? Great. Then they can pay someone to compile one on a contract basis.

    You didn't contribute to the list this year? Sorry, you don't get access to it. I seriously doubt that, if the emergency rooms had to directly subsidze the creation of the list, they would be very eager to give it out to their stingy colleagues (especially in an industry as competitive as medicine). In the end, social pressures would encourage payment.

    Let's not forget classical research either!!! The publication of open source databases is something that the Universities could do very effectively and would fit well with their classical role.

    Bottom line... We don't need laws. We need a more enlightened attitude. Maybe it's time to campaign for the total abolition of IP law, worldwide. Otherwise, we will soon find that we have given soulless corporations the most basic of freedoms: freedom of information.

  • ...compilations, otherwise known as databases, go largely unprotected by copyright laws that safeguard the interests of the authors and publishers of creative works.

    The use of the word "protected" presents a bias in favor of the ownership of factual databases. Databases don't need "protection" if it is entirely legal to copy them.

    [Databases] are generally gatherings of information created by someone else.

    WRONG. Databases are collections of FACTS. A collection of copyrighed information is still owned by the owner of that copyrighted information.

    The article also gives examples in which database compilers have been exploited, but fails to give any examples in which these companies have been the exploiters. One very good example could have been the recent case of West Pubishing trying to claim ownership all federal court opinions that it publishes [].
  • Well, I believe even in the US there are some vague data privacy laws, which almost everybody chooses to ignore. How else could the Florida DOT sell mailing lists INCLUDING MUGSHOTS?

    In Europe things are much stricter. At least in Germany, to my knowledge, a company has no right to have a record of you without your consent--this extends to the field level. So you might allow them to have your name and address information for a magazine subscription, but not your SSN. You could sue them for storing it. Anybody correct me if I'm wrong on this.

    There are widereaching implications of this. Most credit cards in the world--including Europe (Eurocard=Mastercard?)--are handled by a clearinghouse in Texas. While in Europe the credit card companies are bound by tight data privacy laws, once the info reaches US shores, it's up for grabs. There was a big spat between the EU and the US regarding such things recently. I think they were talking about big fines or even license revokation for US companies treating European information nonchalantly. And rightly so, I might add.
  • one of the biggest problems I have with this whole database-as-protected-intellectual-property situation is that in the case of some databases, for instance, lexis-nexis, parts of the information in the database belong to you and I. these database companies compile information from publicly available sources and then want the information as a whole protected by law.

    why should my civil court records become lexis-nexis's profitable proprietary information? I certainly didn't authorize anyone to sell my property or tax records. these databases that are huge collections of public data can't logically be made private.
  • by Anders Andersson ( 863 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @04:15AM (#1669987) Homepage

    I'm somewhat confused by the situation. While it's true that mere collections of information probably aren't what the legislators had in mind when copyright was established, they may still represent an essential investment to the compiler - not in storage costs, but in the effort needed to collect the data in the first place.

    The Swedish Copyright Act [] has for quite some time contained a special kind of protection for collections of large numbers of information items (Article 49), similar to the protections given to audio or video recordings. It differs from normal copyright in a number of ways:

    • There is no requirement of artistic creativity, i.e. the collection need not be devised or expressed in any novel way.
    • The compiler enjoys only financial rights, but not any moral rights similar to those awarded to authors of literary or artistic works.
    • The duration of this protection is based on when the compilation was created, rather than on when the compiler died.
    • The duration of said protection is much shorter than that given to literary or artistic works, today 15 years after the compilation was created as compared to 70 years after the author of a book died.
    • In addition to enjoying this simple kind of protection, a collection that has literary or artistic merit may enjoy normal copyright protection as well (imagine a telephone directory decorated with flower ornaments between every five subscribers).

    As with books, general provisions for fair use, private copying etc. apply, and as with books, nobody is prevented from extracting individual items of information from the collection, as long as you don't simply copy the entire collection.

    These provisions predate the appearance of computerized databases, and were appearantly intended for printed catalogues, directories and the like. However, I think they apply equally well to digital collections, and I'm not aware of any legal major disputes over this matter in Sweden.

    Then we started hearing complaints from several other countries that databases weren't protected by copyright, that such protection had to be established, and that it must be international. Funny they didn't seem to notice that Sweden already had that kind of protection, but went ahead outlining that protection from scratch. Then we were essentially required to adopt whatever they came up with, so now we have two kinds of protection covering approximately the same thing, but with very different rules.

    Now I hear that the USA still has no database protection at all - and I was under the impression that the USA was the place where these desperate cries for database protection originated. Was I wrong? How many different kinds of database protection will be imposed on smaller countries before the USA gets its act together and implements even one of those, wreaking havoc with existing legal concepts everywhere?

  • The issue is not the database format itself that is the issue, it is the data, regardless of what format it is stored in. You should read the article.

  • Then just write them and tell them to remove your name from their mailing list. Write the Direct Marketing Association and have them put you on their (i forgot the name) list, that most buyers bump their lists against in order to drop out people who have requested not to be included. Done.

    If you've gone through these steps, you should be fine, because direct marketers don't want to spend the $$$ to reach you if they know for a fact you're going to throw it in the trash prior to reading it.

    But then you've got to be careful and check all those boxes on websites, subscription forms, registration forms that says don't make my name avaialibe. Forget one, and you've got to start all over again
  • I think there is a slight confusion on points. If I collect the real estate data for my community and publish it on a CD it is copyrightable due to the value I have added to the collection, but data itself is not copyrightable. Anyone can republish the raw data, or repackage it. Just not sell it with my value added.

    The only example of data that I can think of that would be in a DB and be copyrightable is if you generate the data. Let's say I create an intellectual seed of data and software that generates a huge database of derived data. That would belong to me if I choose to copyright it.

    Where books like the one you mentioned (I'm not familiar with it), or the ARRL repeater handbook are copyrighted is not the data, but the presentation of the data. I can not copy the book and sell it, but I can take the raw data, format it and sell it with my value added. Granted the ARRL will bully you into not doing this as they have others, but it's still legal.
  • It may be too little too late, but thank God we have avenues like Slashdot and [] to alert us of this kind of thing.

    Don't expect the media to raise any issues at all with this law. Media companies will benefit BIG time from such a law. They'll be able to compile all of those polls they're always running into databases and then copyright them. They'll be the first one's to commercialize the use of copyrighted on-line databases.

    Copyrights are there not to ensure 'fairness'. They are there to encourage creation of intellectual property. Check the Constititution, not that Media considers THAT relevant anymore.

    I haven't seen a lack of data collection/database creation under the present system. This is legislation that probably protects only campaign contributors.

    Speaking of campaign contributors, if someone puts together campaign contribution databases will I be allowed to point out that Senators X, Y and Z and Congressmen A, B, C, D, (not E or F) and G got fat contributions and then supported some legislation? A case could certainly be made that I used their database and violated their copyright here.

    I also believe the example of someone's book that was photocopied and placed on the Web to be bogus. It doesn't raise to the level of specious because nobody who knows ANYTHING about copyrights would believe that this is a problem. Of course the original author of a book is protected against it being published on the Web without permission. That's exactly what copyright protects.

    They are attempting to extend copyright to every fact in a collection of facts. Very scary.

  • As others are pointing out, copyrighting of databases presents some very troubling issues for the public. But what good would such a protection scheme do for the public good?

    All freely concede that their goal is to preserve their private interests - the profitability of the databases they collect. And they see the potential threat as grave. Some even paint a database doomsday scenario, in which whole databases are secretly spirited away to the Internet, with no accountability for their accuracy.

    This is clearly nothing more than FUD, drawing on emotions to make their case. The underlying assumption here is that commercial databases all have the desireable trait of being more reliable, whereas "secret Internet" databases are unreliable because there is "no one you can sue".

    First, the number of times companies have gotten wrong addresses in their databases makes me doubt this. (Genealogy databases, for instance.) Second, check open databases like the Internet Movie Database or the CDDB, which tend to accumulate corrections from peer review, making the database better than it'd have been if kept closed.

    But for the sake of the argument, consider if it is true that a "pirated" database is less reliable and thus harms the community - in this case, those who are most sensitive to the damage will prefer paying for the integrety and security (i.e., "brand") they'd get from the original producer.

    The fear is that the work of assembling the database is subverted by the ease of copying of the data. Actually, databases on the internet make a lot more sense than traditional printed ones - they're easy to protect through electronic means, via paid accounts or whatnot.

    But for sake of argument, let's say there are ways around it, due to the nature of the internet. But the "nature of the internet" probably makes it easier to collect and distribute the information, and provides a larger customer base than you'd normally have. This is like a farmer complaining about getting sunburn when out tending his crops.

    Representative Frank says: "I think there is a value to society of people compiling databases. But if you get zero protection, why would you do it? Data compilation is not fun. It's not something people do for the sheer creative joy of it."

    People compile data into databases because it is useful or profitable, rarely ever because it is "fun". People who enjoy compiling databases for fun - e.g., genealogists, fans, research scientists, etc. aren't likely to be charging money for use of the database, and thus won't be harmed (other than their dignity) if someone copies and re-releases the data, even at a charge. A law such as described would thus probably provide little benefit to these desirable free databases. On the other hand, those laws could be used as weapons against these free database producers. Thus, this law might actually _hinder_ the "fun" of creating databases.

    Also note that one of the features of copyright is that the work eventually enter the public domain. Unless there is a mechanism to force the database manufacturer to reveal the complete contents of their database for others to take advantage of when the copyright expires, then the benefit to society is *greatly* lessened.

    A parent browsing the Internet for poison remedies would have no legal recourse if the pirated version of the index, published without updates, revisions or accurate instructions, gave outdated medical advice...

    Most likely, a non-pirated version of the index would have some sort of "no warranty" disclaimer to avoid subjecting the database provider from being subject to legal recourse. Also, if the parent can't find the information because its locked away in proprietary, commercial databases, does _that_ help things?

    Not to say that database piracy is _good_ for society, but the argument that providing legal protection to commercial databases benefits society is unfounded. Indeed, one could make a pretty compelling argument that the reverse would occur instead.

  • The solution here is not to allow people to copyright databases. The solution is for people compiling data to make their product copyrightable by adding expert information or research to their product; this would also give those who use it more information. Sure you can go out and hunt the data down and do the research yourself, but why not get the data prepackaged with hints, expert advice, etc.?

    On a related note, I fail to see how scientest writing "the world's largest book on snake poison antedotes" would be unable to copyright it unless the merely listed the various poisons with their antedotes in a two-column table. Any real book containing research, opinions and experiences by the author is copyrightable, whether or not it also contains data that is publicly available.

    Joel Dueck

  • by Kaa ( 21510 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @04:35AM (#1669995) Homepage
    I am a lawyer...

    IANAL, but I can still argue with one, cannot I?

    My name is my own, and I have every right, through possession and grant, to restrict how it is used: Why do you think that companies who give out prizes require you to sign a release so they can use your name? If my name was not owned by me, where's the hang-up?

    Such companies want releases mostly to avoid being sued under tort law. Tort law and property law are very different approaches as you probably know. Whether your name is your own (in the property sense) is rather doubtful. You cannot destroy it or change it without the consent of the government. You do not get to pick it (again, without govt consent). Your rights to restrict its use are rather limited, and they disappear if you are a public figure. The phone company includes it in white pages by default, unless you specifically instruct it (and pay it!) not to.

    To reiterate, your control over your name's use is accomplished through tort law, not through property law.

    Banking and medical records are, again, owned by me (and restrictable: See the FCRA and privacy conventions) as they were created by a direct result of my actions and my doing ...

    That may depend on a state, but I don't believe you own your banking and medical records. Try instructing your bank or your physician to destroy them -- see if they comply. Try telling the bank not to use your records for e.g. marketing by its insurance arm -- the bank may agree, but out of politeness, not because they have a legal obligation to do so.

    Besides, the bank records are not created by you. You make actions, which are then recorded by your bank. Granted, you are the cause, but it is the bank that actually creates the records. The records reside on bank's computers and are its intellectual property. If you are believe they have been misused, you will sue the bank under the tort law and not under property law.

    Also, my address is mine, simply because I can control its use. ... Possession is 9/10ths of the law, and control presumes possession

    Come on! Go back to your first year of law school and re-read the Property textbook. Just because you happen to control something does not mean you own it.

    I may keep my address private, if I choose. "But, wait Mr. Lawyer, can't someone look up your address at least in the county's Hall of Records?" Yes, they can. However, that does not give them permission to use my address for their purposes.

    And, pray tell me, why not? Or rather, why do they need your permission? If your name is Guppenblinken and I happen to collect the addresses of all Guppenblinkens in the world, I can perfectly well get your address, store it in my database, post it on the web, send you mail, etc. If you don't like it, you can sue me under torts, but for the n-th time, there are no property issues here. You cannot sue me for theft.

    If what you say were true, then my address would be available for others to use for the same purposes I do, such as receipt of mail.f my banking records were not mine, then others could use them to place transactions against.

    Nonsense. Receipt of mail is a function of the physical location of your house/apartment and the matching of that physical location to the Post Office database. The banking transactions involve actual assets in your account, which you definitely own, not *records* of past transactions.

    I am sorry, you have to come up with better arguments.

  • Protecting the contents of the database seems logical enough, but what if a judge decides the law applies to the schema of the database? The real value of some databases is not in the data elements but their defined inter-relationships. If that is where the value resides, then that is where legal protection will be desired.

    It scares me to think that a data schema for a bank could be registered and any other databases that are substantially similar could be held hostage.

    I know it sounds far fetched, but one judge, one big case...
  • I may be off-base on this next point, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong. Isn't there a concept known as a "compilation copyright" that can be used to protect a work such as a database. I think this is traditionally used to protect something like, oh, a printed collection of "The Best of alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork", where the contents aren't individually copyrighted by the "author", but the compilation as a whole is.

    While I suppose U.S. copyright law recognizes compilations of other works much as Swedish copyright law does, I don't think you can apply this to random collections of data in general. Isn't there a requirement that in order to enjoy copyright protection, your work must have a creative element to it, i.e. you cannot simply instruct your computer or your chimpanzee to produce a sequence of random letters and have it accepted in court as a copyrighted work, right? It may be unique in its appearance, but there is no intellectual creativity embodied in it.

    Likewise, merely compiling everything that has appeared in a particular newsgroup (including all the spam) takes no intellectual effort, but just a robot. If the typewritten monkey gibberish isn't protected by copyright, then neither is a random sample of today's Usenet postings.

    It's however a different matter when you come up with The Best of alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork, because "The Best" implies a subjective selection of some kind, where a human has supposedly picked the (according to someone's opinion) most profound postings, or perhaps simply weeded out all the spam but kept the rest. This kind of compilation enjoys copyright protection in its own right (while the authors of the individual articles making up the compilation retain any existing rights they may have had).

    If all databases were created in this manner, based on human selection and arrangement of the individual items, then I believe existing copyright law would be sufficient. However, most databases are simply mechanical compilations of anything fitting simple criteria that can be checked automatically, and thus they lack the creative element.

    Therefore I don't think copyright in the traditional sense applies or should apply to databases, but that a separate kind of "almost-copyright" may optionally be established for databases, automatically made recordings, and the like. It need not involve the definition of an author, or any ridiculously long durations of any such rights.

    If you arrange a camera next to a street crossing and set it up to automatically take a picture the next time a car passes in front of it, and you then leave the area, will the driver of that car be considered the photographer, and will he own the copyright to the picture thus taken? Will you? Will the owner of the camera? What if the camera was stolen from the owner and then used for this purpose..?

  • I'm pretty sure that the mailboxes are owned by the federal government, and that taking mail out of a box that isn't assigned to you by them is a felony.

    I wouldn't be surprised if misrepresenting the sender of an envelope (via the return address) would be a kind of mail fraud.

    Of course, IANAL... I did take a tort law class once, though. =) I must be qualified to post on slashdot. heh.
  • To me, this is just another example of why a powerful government is not beneficial to the people. This kind of thing seems to happen over and over and over in the United States.

    Somebody who has a lot of cash to dangle under the nose of a Congre$ men up for reelection, realizes that because their because they have failed to keep up with the continually changing world, they are quickly going to become obsolete! By paying some congress member (in the form of campaign contributions) they are able to infringe upon the rights of the people, in order to keep themselves in power.

    Two things to think about:

    Is it actually possible for a government to give you, the citizen, rights?
    How long are we going to allow our rights to be stripped from us without standing up and creating a revolution!

  • I think I remember reading about this proposed legislation, and the desired intent is to allow companies that currently repackage publicly available (maybe not easily available) datasets and claim "copyright" on them.

    All hail the mighty buck.

    The sports score stuff has been directly aimed at such things as automatic score updates via pager, etc. If your job was to go to games and keep score with your laptop that then get zapped to Corporate, which then zaps the scores via pager, the leagues were pissed about this as it constituted some sort of "unlicensed" broadcast of "their" information. I don't know how this shook out. It wasn't as much a copyright issue as a (un)licensing issue.
  • You shouldn't make your living off of someone else's database without reimbursing them? OK, what if state gives away DMV records (and making them basically non-public in the process) to a company that then makes a shitload of dough by redoing that data and selling slices of it? Where, as a licensed driver, have I been reimbursed for my data?

    For you business and stock wonks, have you used any form of EDGAR (database pushed by Dept. of Commerce, with all sorts of basic business info)? Should that data from the govment be locked down so it can only be accessed through some company? No?

    Thank you.

    Databases, although they may or may not be private things, shouldn't be copyrightable.

    We then get to argue what constitutes a database...
  • Yes. But what if right before the copmiler of the data was finished, he relised the Very Big Corp. or America had published a similer list?

    Theoreticaly, since they both got the data form public domain sources, They should both be within the law right?

    But if VBCoA decides that Mr. Compiler has ripped off VBCoA's list he can't do a thing about it. With this law in effect he'd be screwed. VBCoA's lawyers would point to the fact that his list came out right after thiers, and the fact that it is identical to thiers. He wouldn't stand a chance. Never mind that it HAS to be identical because there is only one set of data that is correct.
  • Read this to learn what the Supreme Court has said recently about copyrighting "facts":

    Feist v. Rural []

    It's a very useful overview of the state of US law.

    - Seth Finkelstein

  • by LL ( 20038 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @02:21AM (#1670005)
    For people that are interested in the value of databases for science, take a look at Bits of Power: Issues in Global Access to Scientific Data []. The recommendations (much abridged) are
    • scientific data should be priced at cost of distribution
    • if the distributor subsequently adds value to the data, then the price should be no higher than the marginal cost of adding value
    • advocate the incorporation of equivalents of "fair use" as part of any regulatory structure applying to databases as such

    While there has been some debate with scientific data (rather useless outside specialist fields), the case of commercial data is less obvious. There have been a few historical cases which have given people pause about the monopolisation of data. One specific example was the privatisation of some early LandSat satellite imagery which according to one viewpoint, was immediately priced to the legislated maximum which effectively stunted academic research into algorithms for processing satellite imagery and any follow-on applications. Other raw data by definition can only have value if shared, e.g. is meterological data spread across multiple countries. With the increasing automatic data collection and computerisation, the potential of conflict for owners and users of databases will only increase.

    One of the biggest issues is how to "price" the assembly and aggregation of disparate data. Even pure scientific data could have some commercial value (e.g. genetic codes) under the right circumstances. One solution may be to provide the raw data and the processed value-added stuff and let the market judge whether it is cheaper to massage the raw themselves or save time in purchasing the processed.

    Another approach is to create data rights limited by geographical, time, or functional scope. However, this in turn raises more problems in debating to what extent data can be altered before it is considered a unique "new" work (compare with music mixes or composition of existing recognisable art scenes). How far down the value chain is one allowed to claim a slice of the action (compare music score composers claiming a slice of movie soundtracks of their songs)? These are still unanswered questions.

    A collection of innoculous facts (e.g. mouse-clicks) can be transformed into a perpetual watch on your web-browsing habits. Given enough time and persistance, any digital event can be tied to a personal profile. Who "owns" this data? A satellite can take pictures of people sun-bathing, some countries would be paranoid to define this as invasion of their sovereign air-space.

    In short, the information age will create a whole new raft of problems which will require some legistlation just to clarify any ambiguities. IMHO some time limits would be the most likely solution, even sensitive federal data can be declassified after a suitable cool-down period. But unfortunately I suspect that until some people have seen how far the system can be abused, I doubt whether there will be any popular outcry for safeguards.

  • (The following is under US law)

    Actually, technically, patents become avalible to the public *at the time of the fileing*. The public just can't legally use that data commercially until eithor it is improved and repatented or until 17 years go by.

    Patenting software should mean that you *must* release the (nicely formatted and well commented) source code, so that others can take your product and improve it.

  • I think the point of all of this is to copyright information that you might not want other people to use...

    As a for instance: Most Non-Profit orginizations have "donor lists." In my fictional NPO, I don't want (for instance) to have my list of geeks. /. my start sending them mailings or e-mails asking for money, cutting into my donor base. This is the equivilent of the lists junk mail companies sell to other junk mail companies.

    If my NPO can prevent someone else from stealing my info, I can get more money...

  • It might be a funny idea to force, say, my local phone company to drop my address information, which I trivially own, from _all_ their databases (phone book, billing databases, etc).

    Can I then sue them for copyright infringement if they still send me a bill to my address ??

    Also, some of my custer information is probably in databases of multiple companies and agencies (DMV, GTE, ...). Will they start sueing each other over my address. Oh joy!
  • The rationale used to justify copyright protection is that it's needed to provide incentive for authors, writers, etc.

    But if we didn't have copyrighted databases, would we have a shortage of databases? If we wouldn't, then extending copyright protection is not economically justified.

    What remains is simply our sense of fairness; we can all relate the the unpleasantness of somebody else selling our work. It may not bother a musician if somebody makes a copy of their CD for a friend, but it would definitely bother them if somebody else were pressing their own copies and selling them in music stores.
  • by PigleT ( 28894 )
    "Broadly speaking, the debate is between people who collect raw data and people who distribute it"

    That, and a comment about spending $2E6 to set up a database and not "protecting" it, sum it up for me.
    Frankly, if people don't distinguish between what they want to publicise or not, in whatever ways available, I don't think they've a right to complain.
    It means you decide this at the outset - and continually review it as you're compiling the database.
    If you want something to be communally available, good, say so and folks will be grateful for it (open-source, "free"ware, and all that). If you don't, slop a stinkin' big copyright notice and secure access website around it, and we'll treat it accordingly.

    Author's call, not mine.

  • Here's an potential abuse of a stricter copyright law: DNS tables.

    How long would it be until NSI declares that all cacheing of information in their databases is an infringement on their copyright? I give it about 4 hours. (Yes, this would be stupid for technical reasons, if nothing else, but hey it is NSI after all.)

    I may be off-base on this next point, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong. Isn't there a concept known as a "compilation copyright" that can be used to protect a work such as a database. I think this is traditionally used to protect something like, oh, a printed collection of "The Best of alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork", where the contents aren't individually copyrighted by the "author", but the compilation as a whole is.
  • Picture this: A scientist spends an afternoon at a baseball game compiling the game and player statistics. Then, shortly after, he turns on his computer to find a sports service has photocopied his stats, posted them on a Web page, and splashed it across the Internet.

    Oh no. What's the world coming to?
  • Forget the actual data in the database; I feel the actual *design* of a relational database deserves to be copyrighted. It's an art form! It takes a long time and many changes to the set of tables and their connections before a database reaches the point of being "good." (Let alone "usable" or "well designed".)

    When I implement a good database, I certainly don't want anyone else taking my work. I don't care what happens to the data in it... that's my clients' problem. :)

  • It might be a funny idea to force, say, my local phone company to drop my address information, which I trivially own, from _all_ their databases (phone book, billing databases, etc).

    Welcome to the real world, pal. You do NOT own your address information. You do not own (in the intellectual property sense) your name, your address, your banking records, your medical records, your phone call logs, etc. etc. They are owned by whoever collected them. You have no say in how they are used (with exceptions provided by specific laws, e.g. video rental information).

  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @02:40AM (#1670016) Homepage Journal
    I don't see why a Linux distribution wouldn't be considered a database. This could, indeed, have some nasty implications unless the law is written very narrowly (which would surprise me).

    The big question here is how the copyright on the database relates to the copyright of an individual entry within the database. If the two are legally independent, then even if all the packages are covered by the GPL, a given distribution may be proprietary, requiring a separate license for each installation.
  • First off, as far as I can tell the Globe is dead wrong by the second paragraph. It doesn't matter whether I photocopy, photograph or hand-copy a book, it's copyright infringement any way you look at it. So if someone uses a scanner, how is that not copyright infringement? When the Globe says someone can legally scan a book, convert it to HTML and publish it, I think they're dead wrong.

    Secondly, check me but isn't what they're trying to pass law on already covered under the existing "compilation copyright" section of the copyright laws? If it is, then why should a compilation on a computer be treated any differently than, say, a phone book?

    Another grab by greedy companies. Feh.

  • ''Why would anyone spend $2 million to create a database if it's not going to be protected?'' said David Mirchin, of SilverPlatter Information, a database publisher in Norton, Mass.
    This is almost always the argument used to justify imposing new, stricter intellectual property laws of any sort (copyright, trademark, patent, etc.).

    And it's completely obvious to anyone that thinks about it for five seconds that it's both misleading and irrelevant.

    The fact is that people have always compiled databases in the past, without this supposedly essential legal protection, and there is no real reason to believe that they won't continue to do so in the future.

    They like to act like there's been some fundamental change in technology that destroys their business model. I'd be the first to agree that the Internet is influential and has changed a lot of things. But no one is forcing the people that compile databases to make them available on the internet in a form that is easily copied by their competitors. If they're so concerned about "wholesale" copying of their database, they could, for instance, restrict the number of queries and query results from a given IP address per day. Or, perhaps even more expedient, they could simply require their customers to sign a license agreement before accessing their database.

    Anyhow, there's already a significant legal distinction between databases that are just "raw data", and works (including compilations) that are "creative works" (i.e., show signs that some thought process was involved in their creation, such as an editor choosing which papers to publish in a book). Peronally I have little sympathy for people that think that they have a god-given right to profit from a collection of raw data. By which I mean that I'm not the least bit opposed to them selling the data, but when they start whining about needing broad new legal protections, I think they're out of control.

    Note that many of the companies that are pushing for these new protections haven't actually invested their own money in creating the databases anyhow. What they really want is to be able to copyright databases that have been compiled by the US Government at taxpayer expense. They very nearly got their legislation passed in the last congress; they'll keep trying until they do. It is important that we keep letting our legislators know that we won't put up with this sort of BS. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

  • Copyright protects a realization of a product and the law is as broad as the courts are willing to let it be. For example, if I perform a piece of music without lyrics from purchased sheet music or from memory, that is not copyright infringement. I believe it is different if the music has lyrics because of the the way that ASCAP works. You are supposed to pay per performance--it has to do with law regarding the realization of written word.

    Also, it is illegal to photocopy any copyrighted material. I guess if you retype data from a book and place it in a different database, such as on a disk, it is a different realization. I think the first example in the article is wrong--you can't publish a photocopy of anything copyrighted.

    Copyright lasts until 50 years after the author's death. You can't photocopy "1984" because the Orwell has not been dead for more than 50 years. Also, you could write something similar to 1984-same plot, similar character names, but different characteristics such as setting and characters, then you could publish it and not infringe.

    It's very confusing and intricate law. I think there should be some protection for this, but not 50 years after the authors death. That is much too long. There should be a different copyright for this type of information--10 years perhaps?

  • Constructing a database costs money. It is only natural that the constructor wants to protect his investment. I.e. if someone copies the database, it is hard for the constructing party to make any money on it.

    An example of this is an interesting case in Holland. In Holland there is a publishing company which publishes books containing the text of all the laws in our country. Maintaining this collection costs a lot of money even though the text of the laws (naturally) is open and available for public use. The collection is under copyright. A few years ago a smart law student scanned and ocr'ed the lawbooks and published them on the internet (which in itself is useful). He was subsequently sued and he lost the case.

    I think this is a perfect example of a collection of open information (nobody could claim ownership of a law) that is copyrighted.

    In stallmans worlds the publishing company would have been kindly thanked for all the time and money invested in creating and maintaining this collection and the guy would have been able to publish the stuff he copied. I don't think that would be a good thing.
  • However, today collections of data ARE a product of intellect. The value isn't in the data itself, but in the sheer volume and ease of manipulation OF that data.
    Neither the sheer volume nore the ease of manipulation make the data a "product of intellect".

    I'm not saying that there aren't things that could be done to a collection of data that might make it a "product of intellect", but simply amassing a huge amount of data and putting it in e.g. Microsoft Access (which presumably makes it easy to manipulate does not make the data any more a "product of intellect" than it was to start with.

    If a person added their own commentary or ratings to the data, for instance, that would be a "product of intellect", and they should get a copyright on their additions, which are, of course, not raw data.

  • But you're getting the 'raw data' from the book, right? So you are exploiting the efforts of the maker of that book. And hence, you should pay for the book, THEN you can use the raw data.

    I think we agree here, but are talking past each other.

    If a company has created a database, you oughtn't be able to steal that data FROM the database without paying for access to the database. You can gather the data yourself, as long as you don't gather it from the database without paying for it. (makers of that book) use this principle to sell subscriptions to their online databaes. IDC, Gartner and Yankee Group (consulting houses) base their entire business model on proprietary databases and gathering of 'public' data.

    Sigh...too bad the Congress killed that NTIA, there was a Federal agency that gathered tons of data and published it for free consumption as a matter of policy.
  • And right there you have the crux of the whole problem. There is no distinction between these two events in copyright law...and, in fact, I think the artist _would_ be upset about making a copy of their CD for a friend...that's a percentage of 20$C out of their own pocket.

    A sense of fairness is all well and good to talk about in our electronic salons, but in the real world you take any opportunity yuo can to save a penny. Most of us have worked with databases at some level in our time, adn we know the amount of work we did and the money we got paid. If a coporation can save itself from hiring programmers, data-entry clerks, and researchers...then it will.
  • by Analog ( 564 ) on Tuesday September 21, 1999 @02:50AM (#1670026)
    Picture this: A scientist spends years compiling the world's largest book of poison antidotes. Then, shortly after it's published, he turns on his computer to find a competing researcher has photocopied the book, posted it on a Web page, and splashed it across the Internet.
    Legal? Yes, under current law.

    BS. This is no more legal than would be doing the same thing with Steven King's latest horror epic. At least they let us know up front what the factual content of the rest of the article is liable to be.

    Why would anyone spend $2 million to create a database if it's not going to be protected?'' said David Mirchin, of SilverPlatter Information, a database publisher in Norton, Mass.

    Gee, I don't know. Why do they do it now? The fact is, databases are protected. Taking a database someone else has compiled and republishing it is a violation of law. The courts have ruled on this several times as specifically regards the internet in the last several years. However, the information in the database is not necessarily protected. If said info is otherwise publically available, then you cannot prevent others from using it.

    What you see here is a push (not a new one; it's been going on for a while) to allow someone to create a database of freely available information, and make that information proprietary. The rationale behind this has been that it's the only way to ensure that the information hasn't been 'stolen' from the database, rather than gathered independently. Of course, it's not hard to see what the real motivation is; it's becoming very easy to gather large collections of freely available information. Many people see this as an opportunity to grab a free ride and make a lot of money.

    I'm sure most everyone here can see the obvious problem with allowing the proprietization of this information. If you obtain it independently, how are you going to prove it? And if you create an independent database? Yes, you can document your sources, but unless you can afford to defend yourself in court, this information will be effectively off limits to you unless you pay whoever has bothered to gather it into one spot.

    I keep hearing so much about how Americans are doing so well, how strong our economy is, how much everybody has. Why then, is greed becoming the defining trait of our culture? Are not Bill Gates' tens of billions enough? I kid you not, we as a culture and as a country are headed down a very ugly road; should we persist, we most certainly will get what we deserve.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    You do NOT own your address information. You do not (in the intellectual property sense) your name, your address, your banking records, your medical records, your phone call logs, etc. etc.

    I beg, but not often, to differ.. My name is my own, and I have every right, through possession and grant, to restrict how it is used: Why do you think that companies who give out prizes require you to sign a release so they can use your name? If my name was not owned by me, where's the hang-up?

    Banking and medical records are, again, owned by me (and restrictable: See the FCRA and privacy conventions) as they were created by a direct result of my actions and my doing. If I had not accomplished several steps (choosing a bank, opening an account, finding a merchant, locating an item, purchasing it with a check or debit card) then the data would not exist. Something that is created by your own labor is yours.

    Also, my address is mine, simply because I can control its use. If I do not give it out, no one can force me to do so. I may keep my address private, if I choose. "But, wait Mr. Lawyer, can't someone look up your address at least in the county's Hall of Records?" Yes, they can. However, that does not give them permission to use my address for their purposes.

    Possession is 9/10ths of the law, and control presumes possession. (If you lease a car, you, in fact, "own" the car, the leasing company just has a lien against it, which they will not release) If what you say were true, then my address would be available for others to use for the same purposes I do, such as receipt of mail. If my banking records were not mine, then others could use them to place transactions against.

    (I am a lawyer, but this is not legal advice. Should you require legal advice, please consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. Legal information posts are intentionally sent anonymously to prevent jurisdictional questions.)

  • Medical ethics makes it very clear that whenever research is done test subjects must be fully made aware of the purposes of the study and consent to all aspects of the study?

    Why not require databases of individuals to disclose their existence to every member, and to provide notice for every use, batched or otherwise?
  • Unfortunately this is too simplistic a view - what incentive does anyone to make these databases if there are no laws protecting them?

    It is obvious that a compiler of a database of poison remedies shouldn't own copyright on those remedies. However, that compiler may have spent years verifying each antidote and making sure the information is up to date. That is worth paying for, and if someone else comes along and steals the information the compiler would be rightly pee'd off.

    So the database has a value all of it's own, independent of the information it indexes, and in my view there should be some controls on this. It is a lot easier to copy an existing database than to compile one, so compilation should be worth more.

    As to how this can be regulated, that's where we run into problems. As has already been pointed out - how many records can someone else use at once before infringing copyright on the database? How do you assert that the database is original work?

    I don't have an answer, except to say that the answer is probably different for different databases and any cath-all law would not be a good idea as it would almost certainly get it wrong.

    Certainly what needs to be borne in mind is the idea of "authoritative" information - if you can truly say that you've checked the contents of your database for truth and relevance then surely you should have more rights over it than someone who has simply compiled a whole slew of random, useless information?

  • I see a future which does not contain `database compilation companies', spending millions to collect and correlate data then charging users to view. I see a future where automatic database generation technologies, which do the equivalent work for low cost, becomes the predominate method of correlating data. Think Altavista. Think Google. Think of these not as search engines, but as as automatic database generators.

    The article mentioned one database company that gathers together Massachusetts court records and then charged fees for viewing. In the perfect, future world, each court would instead make the raw data of all its decisions available directly on the web. Researchers then mine this raw data to their heart's content. In this scenerio there is no place for database compilation company to insert added value.

    Therefore, Congress should not pass any laws giving special protection to these dinosaurs.

  • The article didn't seem to have any issue with people refering to databases and using them for research puproses. I'd suspect anything about a few records form the database (spitting cobra, rattlesnake, etc... i don't knw many other snakes) would be fine by the proposed regs... You just couldn't copy and paste the whole database for others to access without it generating money for the people who compiled it.

    The devils in the details, I guess.

Reactor error - core dumped!