Fact Choking?

|

Wired News reports on the proposed Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act (HR3261) [PDF], which would give commercial database firms and list publishers ownership of the facts they compile. Critics see this as a severe blow to the longstanding distinction between creative works, subject to copyright, and factual information, which, as the slogan goes, wants to be free. Public Knowledge has a brief on the law. (via Slashdot)

NEXT: Accounting Scandals

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I think it’s a little misleading to say that the facts are being copyrighted. Look at Section 4. This form of copyright won’t prevent someone from using facts in a database if those facts are independently discovered. Even under current law, owners of private databases can control the distribution of factual data. This new law just allows them to control how that data is distributed indirectly. It may or may not be good policy, but it’s not totally unreasonable.

  2. Julian,

    “would give commercial database firms and list publishers ownership of the facts they compile”

    Wrong. Did any of the “critics” actually read this act? The act expressly states (Sec 4 (a)) that, “This Act shall not restrict any person from independently generating or gathering information obtained by means other than extracting it from a database generated, gathered, or maintained by another person and making that information available in commerce.”

    I don’t think the critics understand what a database really is. It is not a random jumble of facts. The value of a database lays not in “facts” but in its organization i.e. in the defined relationships between the information. That is what this act seeks to protect.

    Traditional copyright law can’t handle a database because the actual contents of a particular database change overtime. Copyright law doesn’t know how to address this.

    In the Wired story, each example of theoretical harm listed, like the financial planer example, is expressly addressed in the bill.

    Jumpen Jeebus! What a hatchet job!

  3. If I’m the first person to copyright the observation that Congress tends to enact really harebrained legislation, can I collect royalties from laws like this?

  4. The problem with databases is exactly the same problem faced by mapmakers. A geographic map does not begin as a drawing but rather as tables of angles, distance, longitude and latitude. Generating these number takes a great deal of time and money (especially in the early days of numeric cartography.)

    Copyrighting maps offered little protection. After all, the geological features that were measured to create the data that led to the drawing of the map exist in the public domain. Those who copied the map could simply claim that they had done their own measurements. Map makers resorted to including deliberate errors in their maps to secure their copyrights.

    Claiming that a database creator owns the “facts” in the database is just like claiming that a surveyor or map maker “owns” the fact that a particular feature of geography exists at a particular location. Clearly they don’t own the fact but they do own the map that they expended resource to create. A map is useful only because it relates all the many “facts” of geography to one another. Individual measurements and locations are comparatively useless. You must have the entire “database” usually in graphic form, for the information to be useful.

    The problem with securing copyrights for maps eventually created a free rider problem so severe that the cost of surveying was socialized and made a government function.

    If people cannot economically benefit from an activity, they will not engage in that activity. The lack of legal protection for databases means people will not compile them as they will just be stolen. Database that are created will have access severely restricted. This will lead to less information in the public realm not more.

  5. Passing another regulation (rather than repealing an existing one) creates more competition? My god, it’s a first!

    That’s why it’s B.S. Existing law already lets people profit from information they correlate while allowing other to profit by independently duplicating their efforts.

    Yes, I’m cynical, but there has to be a protectionist reason behind what on the surface appears to be redundant legislation. Otherwise it just looks like make-work for legislators to provide the illusion that they’re “doin’ work writin’ laws ‘n’ stuff”.

    The only benefit I can possibly see is a remedy to prevent the reselling of things like email address lists.

  6. Shannon Love,

    “Actually, strictly applying Copyright law to database could lead to a situation where certain entities effectively own facts.”

    And? Is this just a throw-away comment?

    “The DPA allows anyone to exactly duplicate another’s database as long as they do it independently.”

    Which would of course lead to some “sweat equity” notion in intellectual property law; something that courts, treaties, and legislatures around the world have always fought and should continue to fight.

    “In fact, Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, placed the Copyright of a compilation not on the data but on the ‘format’ or organization of the data.”

    Thankyou for repeating my earlier comment; also thankyou for being a dishonest jackass by trying to insinuate that you are distinguishing your comments from mine.

    “This would seem to indicate that when a database is copyrighted, it is the logical relationships between data fields that is copyrighted even if the database actually includes no records. This would seem to explicitly outlaw independently created databases using the same relationships even if the individual facts in the database are entirely different.”

    Again, you are merely repeating what I wrote above; with more verbage.

    “Since the individual ‘facts’ or records within an individual real world database can change literally second by second, the format of the database would be the only part that would remain constant enough to copyright.”

    It is very difficult to prove some sort of original authorship in a collection of facts – oooh, they sequenced them alphabetically.

    “The DPA looks more and more like a necessary updating of the law to keep pace with technology. It lets people profit from information they correlate while allowing other to profit by independently duplicating their efforts. This will create competition in database creation and disturbution. The end result is more information for everybody.”

    Actually, monopolizing facts as you want to do will simply lead to less competitition and higher prices; its government sponsored rent-seeking. And one can only imagine the sorts of legal tests that would be involved when someone sued over the “theft” of facts; that alone would create a chilling effect on the collation of facts by independent producers.

  7. Russ D.,

    The re-selling of such lists, etc. is protected by another form of IP law – trade secrets law. The fact is that makers of such compilations of such information already have numerous protections regarding the independent content they place into the compilation if the work is published (such as telephone directory) in copyright law or via trade secrets law if the list is a trade secret. To be blunt this is government-sponsoered rent-seeking on the part of these compilers and is just as nefarious and despicable as the Sony Bono copyright extension.

  8. So why can’t the owners of databases protect them through contracts with those given access to them? Seems like a a state subsidy to me.

  9. dragoon,

    They can; indeed, that is the nature of much trade secrets law. Again, this is government-sponsored rent-seeking here.

  10. Shannon Love,

    Databases, etc. are copyrightable; or rather, the portions that are independently created and at least have some “minimal degree of creativity” are copyrightable. Please see Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service (1991). What this legislation looks like is rent-seeking. The actual “facts” should never be copyrightable; the way those facts are arranged, etc. are copyrightable and should continue to be so, and it is in the latter that copyright holders make their money.

  11. I don’t see how this is any different from, say, Rand McNally copyrighting their street maps, though they can’t copyright the fact that I-91 is the best way to go from New England to Canada

  12. Jean Bart,

    Actually, strictly applying Copyright law to database could lead to a situation where certain entities effectively own facts.

    The DPA allows anyone to exactly duplicate another’s database as long as they do it independently. Under Copyright law, however, you cannot substantially duplicate another entities work even if you do so completely by accident. This situation occurs so often in music copyright law that they have a specific term for it. (Which escapes me at the moment.)

    In fact, Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, placed the Copyright of a compilation not on the data but on the “format” or organization of the data. This would seem to indicate that when a database is copyrighted, it is the logical relationships between data fields that is copyrighted even if the database actually includes no records. This would seem to explicitly outlaw independently created databases using the same relationships even if the individual facts in the database are entirely different.

    Since the individual “facts” or records within an individual real world database can change literally second by second, the format of the database would be the only part that would remain constant enough to copyright.

    The DPA looks more and more like a necessary updating of the law to keep pace with technology. It lets people profit from information they correlate while allowing other to profit by independently duplicating their efforts. This will create competition in database creation and disturbution. The end result is more information for everybody.

  13. EMAIL: nospam@nospampreteen-sex.info
    IP: 218.27.89.146
    URL: http://preteen-sex.info
    DATE: 05/21/2004 02:31:49
    He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare,And he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.