Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Soon, You May Be Able To Copyright Facts... If They're In A Database

from the but-don't-explain-why dept

More bad news for those hoping that politicians were finally waking up to how backwards our intellectual property system currently is. In a step further backwards, the House Judiciary committee approved a bill granting intellectual property protection to databases - even if the info in the database is publicly available. The bill was supported by big database companies who are afraid that people will come along and copy their databases and resell them. Of course, such things are already covered by intellectual property law - but the firms wanted additional protections that seem to go against the Supreme Court's rulings that say you can't copyright facts. This law will have a tremendous number of unintended consequences - similar to the DMCA. All you need to do, now, to provide extra protection to public facts is put them in a database of some sort. The bill still has a ways to go before it becomes a law, but the fact that it's gotten this far isn't a good sign.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    neggamucho, Jan 21st, 2004 @ 7:45pm

    What did you expect?

    As a matter of fact, i 0wN j00!

    Isn't it plain enough?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Jerry, Jan 21st, 2004 @ 8:23pm


    Thank god for Wikipaedia then... at least our encyclopedia knowledge will not be patentable ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    alternatives, Jan 21st, 2004 @ 9:44pm

    Any doubt?

    Any doubt yet that the US government works for corps and not the PEOPLE yet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2004 @ 7:28am

    A Lawsuit Is Pending

    I'm sorry, but the information you presented in this article was stored in a database and you seem to have "stolen" that data. As a result, I am going to launch a civil lawsuit to recover any and all damages that I may have suffered as a result of your callous and blatently illegal actions. By the way, the storing of this message in a database will violate my rights as well as I have already stored this message in my own database, making it illegal for you to use it in anyway whatsoever.

    Sniff. Sniff. I smell lawyers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Hanzie, Jan 22nd, 2004 @ 7:44am

    you may be overreacting a little

    This doesn't sound so different from the current system as prescribed by a European directive. Even under this new proposal, facts will still not be copyright protected; the database containing them might be. That's a pretty big difference.

    Remember: you'll still be allowed to pick bits and pieces from a protected database; just not a substantial amount of it for commercial purposes. That way, the database producer's investment remains protected, and you'll still be able to use what you want from a database, as long as it's not all of it.

    Frankly, claiming that this proposal will allow facts to be copyright-protected sounds a little like you read what you wanted to read...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Mike (profile), Jan 22nd, 2004 @ 8:43am

    Re: you may be overreacting a little

    It's not very hard to come up with unintended consequences that will occur because of this bill. Remember the FatWallet case, where they got sued because they published sale prices? Under this law, you could say that was illegal. I don't think I'm overreacting. There's simply no reason for this law. All it does is add more copyright protection to things that don't need it, leading to worse abuses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Hanzie, Jan 22nd, 2004 @ 9:02am

    Re: you may be overreacting a little

    True: like many, if not all laws, it can be abused. But it's plainly not possible to create a set of rules that cover all eventualities. This is, of course, why judges exist: to stop attempts of abuse. :-)

    But a good example of why one might defend a law like this is a case that happened in the Netherlands a few years ago. A real estate trader had opened up a website displaying his database of available real estate. A competitor simply copied all the content off of his site, in an attempt to lure customers.

    The real estate info is basically nothing more than facts, ergo not protected. But if copying the entire database was allowed, then why would anyone bother creating a database, just to watch a competitor run away with it, without investing a dime?

    So a balanced approach seems best to me: allow extraction of information, but not of a substantial part by someone who wishes to exploit the info commercially. Which seems to be what this law is about. (caveat: I only read the article; not the proposal itself)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Mike (profile), Jan 22nd, 2004 @ 9:26am

    Re: you may be overreacting a little

    Yes, I understand the reasoning there, but you can cover situations like that with existing laws - whether by setting up terms of service or some other means of preventing that kind of abuse. There's no reason for setting up an additional law that will have many more abuses. And, if you take the DMCA as an example, "letting the judges work it out" does not always work.

    Besides, I don't buy the argument that no one would create a database without this law. Plenty of people have for many years - even though this law was not in place, and very few cases exist where someone did what you said. In most cases, there's very little value in simply copying a database like that ("I'm as good as my competitor!"). Companies that provide true value, don't need to just rely on a database of public info they put together.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    PhuzzyLogic, Jan 22nd, 2004 @ 10:30am

    Re: you may be overreacting a little

    I am with Mike on this one. I see no reason for the creation of this law.

    To me it only serves to fill the pocket of those that just want to find, yet another way to sue others for very silly reasons.

    I have created databases before, and found them a few weeks later on another site, intact and with my name as the author. And truely I do not care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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