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Do You Have A License For Those Facts? 525

Posted by timothy
from the balancing-rights-and-benefits dept.
spikedvodka writes "Wired is reporting that the "Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act (HR3261)" is under consideration. It passed the house Judiciary Committee, and is on it's way to the Commerce Committee. This bill would allow companies to copyright databases. (Think phone-number databases) and goes directly against the idea that nobody can own a fact." (See this earlier posting.)
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Do You Have A License For Those Facts?

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  • by ajiva (156759) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:31PM (#8455447)
    So all I have to do is "Download the Internet" as Comcast's ads claim, then I can OWN the internet! Woohoo, where's my multi-terebyte disk array!
  • More info.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:31PM (#8455451)
    at LISNews [lisnews.com] (kind of the /. for librarians...)
    • by Mateito (746185) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:06PM (#8455941) Homepage

      kind of the /. for librarians...

      Oh God... I can see it now...

      All your books are belong to us!!

      In Soviet Russia, shelves book you!!

      Imagine a Boewulf of those!!

    • by Mablung (723714) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @06:46PM (#8457164)
      While the links at the site mentioned are all biased against this legislation, and many of those links provide only knee-jerk, "the sky is falling", "keep your hands off my facts" reactions (e.g. Phyllis Schlafly's [eagleforum.org]) so typical to slashdot responses found here, there is at least one lucid presentation [nas.edu] of the situation. Anyone really interested in this topic should at least read William A. Wulf's testimony. He summarizes the problem well. Here's my summary of the problem (not the testimony).

      1. NOBODY is trying to COPYRIGHT ANYTHING! NOBODY is trying to OWN FACTS! (Please repeat this to yourself three times before continuing to read anything anywhere)
      2. Big database companies (like West) are worried that other companies can slurp up large parts of their data and turn around and sell it. Everyone agrees this is unfair and shouldn't be allowed.
      3. Big companies now KNOW that COPYRIGHT DOES NOT PROTECT THEM from situation 2 above because of Feist. (Google it with copyright).
      4. Big companies want some law to point to when situation 2 actually happens.

      The real problem(s):

      a. Situation 2 may not be a real problem. No one has shown that this is actually happening.
      b. Big companies (like West) like to sue honest competitors to gain any advantage they can. That's their job. (Google West and Lexis)
      c. The new legislation may be addressing a non-problem while facilitating expensive, unnecessary lawsuits designed to harass competition.
      d. (The big one for me) The new legislation may chill the activities of companies like Google who might inadvertently become liable.


      Hey man, can I bum a sig?
  • Careful... (Score:5, Funny)

    by eurleif (613257) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:32PM (#8455455)
    Does /. have the legal right to talk about this bill? I mean, that fact might be copyrighted!
    • by frodo from middle ea (602941) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:48PM (#8455701) Homepage
      The fact , that a fact can be copyrighted , is in fact quite frightening.
      • by Stregone (618612) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:55PM (#8455812)
        I wonder if that means we can sue someone who posts a repeat story on /.
      • This is actually kind of a dumb, extremist reaction to a very useful idea.

        First of all, it's not FACTS that are being copyrighted. It's databases. Yes, a database is a collection of facts -- but it's the concept of collection that's being protected here, not the concept of facts.

        Think about it this way: you can copyright a guitar riff, but you obviously can't copyright a note. A note is a basic, concrete thing, you can't CREATE a new note. Does this fact bely the creation of original songs? I don't think so...every time music seems stagnant, somebody finds a new way to make it.

        In the same way, you can't copyright a word, but you can copyright a book. You can't copyright red, but you can use it in your painting.

        The creative act of assembling a database -- and if you don't think it's creative, you've never done it, it takes a TREMENDOUS effort to assemble and maintain a useful data relation even if you're using publically accessible information -- is something that should be protected. It gives data warehousers the same assurance that other content creators receive, so that they can offer access to their systems without worrying about losing the value...something which in my experience has plagued content creators greatly.

        In fact, I see no reason why databases can't be fairly used same as any other created work. For example: let's say I run a sports website. If I wrote an editorial, and you wanted to quote a few lines on your own site, you'd be allowed to. But copy all the text and you're in violation of copyright. It'd be the same with databases. Want to quote a sport score or two? No problem, that's fair. Want to present all of yesterday's results? You'd better ask permission or start compiling them yourself. I don't have a problem with this.
        • by rot26 (240034) * on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:43PM (#8456391) Homepage Journal
          In fact, I see no reason why databases can't be fairly used same as any other created work

          You can't??? How about the fact that practically all other creative work is STATIC, and most databases are DYNAMIC??? See the problem now? It's relatively easy to define a copied work of a static object, but how do you define a copy of a dynamic object? It would be a nightmare. This is a serious problem.
        • by SoCalChris (573049) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @06:01PM (#8456588) Journal
          Think about it this way: you can copyright a guitar riff, but you obviously can't copyright a note. A note is a basic, concrete thing, you can't CREATE a new note. Does this fact bely the creation of original songs? I don't think so...every time music seems stagnant, somebody finds a new way to make it.

          Ok, now if you take your collection of notes, and randomize the order they're in, you have something totally different. Now, take your database, and randomize the records in that. You still have the same exact database. They are two totally different ideas.
        • by Meridun (120516) * on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @06:26PM (#8456853) Homepage
          Copying what I wrote from the last time, I'm continually amused at the people who are disagreeing with you. Basically, all this bill is proposing to do is punish BLATANT direct copies of a database or large portion thereof. Note the following exceptions to the law, from the last time I looked at it:

          SEC. 4. PERMITTED ACTS.

          (a) INDEPENDENTLY GENERATED OR GATHERED INFORMATION- 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.

          (b) ACTS OF MAKING AVAILABLE IN COMMERCE BY NONPROFIT EDUCATIONAL, SCIENTIFIC, OR RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS- The making available in commerce of a substantial part of a database by a nonprofit educational, scientific, and research institution, including an employee or agent of such institution acting within the scope of such employment or agency, for nonprofit educational, scientific, and research purposes shall not be prohibited by section 3 if the court determines that the making available in commerce of the information in the database is reasonable under the circumstances, taking into consideration the customary practices associated with such uses of such database by nonprofit educational, scientific, or research institutions and other factors that the court determines relevant.

          (c) HYPERLINKING- Nothing in this Act shall restrict the act of hyperlinking of one online location to another or the providing of a reference or pointer (including such reference or pointer in a directory or index) to a database.

          (d) NEWS REPORTING- Nothing in this Act shall restrict any person from making available in commerce information for the primary purpose of news reporting, including news and sports gathering, dissemination, and comment, unless the information is time sensitive and has been gathered by a news reporting entity, and making available in commerce the information is part of a consistent pattern engaged in for the purpose of direct competition.

          I won't annoy all of you by requote the whole text of the bill (which I highly recommend you read before flaming). However, from my reading of it, all it seems to prohibit is for someone to make available significant amounts of a commercial database for their own profit. Basically, you can't spider Lexis-Nexis or the like and sell the info, but you CAN independently collect that data from direct sources and compete with them.

          If I'm missing something here, PLEASE tell me. Again, read the bill first though, before you spew fire.
    • Well, since publication constitutes copyright in the US, all comments on this topic are now Copyright(C) 2004 Slashdot a.k.a. OSDN

      Please surrender your license at the door

      Every day I feel my nick becomes more and more appropriate...
    • by swschrad (312009) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:02PM (#8455892) Homepage Journal
      you can probably copyright an organization system, but you can't own a fact. facts are just THERE. "the sky is blue"(r) is not property.

      in fact, until there are some competent reviewers, I suspect it would be good if all further patents, copyrights, and laws regarding digital matters just freakin' S T O P.
  • Hmms... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by andreMA (643885) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:32PM (#8455462)
    If I'm called to testify under oath in a court, can I refuse to answer any question I wish because I can't know if the facts as I relate them might be some 3rd party's IP?

    Can I demand an immunity deal as a condition of testifying at all?

    • Re:Hmms... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by shystershep (643874) * <bdshepherd@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:52PM (#8455764) Homepage Journal
      The point that everyone is missing, not helped at all by the article headline, is that this is about databases, not individual facts. Facts will still not be able to be copyrighted, just collections of them. Doesn't make the bill much better, but it's an important distinction.

      I think there's a real chance of it being declared unconstitutional, because Congress's authority to issue patents and copyrights is "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." (US Const, Art. 1, s. 8, p. 8) That said, they'll probably just pass it as a law governing interstate commerce.
      • Database of one? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by xanthines-R-yummy (635710) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:04PM (#8455913) Homepage Journal
        What about databases of one? I know it's completely academic, but still...

        ... and yes, I am aware of the irony regarding the usage of the U.S. Army's slogan (An Army of One!).

      • The real point (Score:5, Informative)

        by rwiedower (572254) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:08PM (#8455962) Homepage

        Actually, the fact that everyone is missing has nothing to do with the article in question, because the article in question misses the key point: the only news item from today that is noteworthy is that an alternative bill is being put forward in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that will specifically alter the sections the House Judiciary Committee proposed.

        The Wired story is out of date. I'd link to the article in CQ today, but it's restricted. HR3261 will hopefully be beaten by the energy and commerce version, which will bring the database protection under the scope of the FTC, rather than under an individual corporation's scope.

      • Re:Hmms... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cdrudge (68377) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:10PM (#8455979) Homepage
        If I have a book, all the words in in are copyrighted as a whole. Sure I can use any of the words individually. I can probably even string a few of them together to make a complete sentence. If I put enough of them together in the same order and put them in my work, then it (can) become copyright infringement. If I'm writing a critical piece, a review, or something similar, I can cite the original source in a limited manner and give credit to the original owner of the copyrighted piece. This has been practiced for some time under fair-use laws.

        Now lets say this bill gets passed and becomes the law of the land. Everytime I give out my phone number, do I have to cite MaBell? How about an list of phone numbers of computer retailers in my community? All that information is contained in the phone book. Even though I went to each and every store and wrote down their phone number, it still could be showen that it all that data was in MaBell's database and covered under her copyright. At what point does a collection of individual facts cross the line between just a collection and a database?
      • Re:Hmms... (Score:5, Informative)

        by AllUsernamesAreGone (688381) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:19PM (#8456096)
        I think there's a real chance of it being declared unconstitutional,....

        Eldred V Ashcroft will tell you all you need to know about how limited those limited times are, ie: they aren't.
      • Re:Hmms... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mblase (200735) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:19PM (#8456097)
        The point that everyone is missing, not helped at all by the article headline, is that this is about databases, not individual facts

        Yes. A good analogy would be an encyclopedia -- each entry is nothing but facts, facts, facts, but they're written in a particular way which itself is copyrightable. You can re-copy the facts, but (barring fair use) not the exact format in which it's written.

        A database is very similar: a bunch of facts written to a hard drive in a particular way which is uniquely readable and useful (and marketable).
    • by Lemmeoutada Collecti (588075) <obereon@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:03PM (#8455904) Homepage Journal
      Given that the human brain is a data storage and correlation device, and given that it operates on electronic principles, I hereby submit that the facts in my brain are in fact stored in a correlative, referential database using an entropic indexing key. Therefore, presentation of these facts would in fact be a violation of Copyright. Further, since the data is stored in an encrypted form, decrypting that data without expressed written authorization of the creator of that key $DIETY would be a violation of the DMCA.

    • Re:Hmms... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Fiz Ocelot (642698) <{baelzharon} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:14PM (#8456029)
      I want the truth!

      You can't handle the licencing fees for the truth!

  • by millahtime (710421) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:32PM (#8455465) Homepage Journal
    I can see it now. An office with 2 lines. The first to file you copyright and the second to file a lawsuit against someone for violating your new copyright.
  • by neilcSD (743335) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:32PM (#8455472)
    Corporations will squeeze every last damn cent they can out of anyone. When will the government stop this capitalism run amok? I'm all for corporations making profits, and the government helping protect this, but what is happening is that the small guy (consumers and small businesses who don't have millions of dollars to blow on lawsuits) gets hurt.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Don't confuse capitalism with protectionism. I believe this law is clearly an example of the former rather than the latter.
    • by ScooterBill (599835) * on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:42PM (#8455611)
      The copyright idea has been corrupted far beyond it's original intent. That is, to protect creators of original work for a period of time to allow them to realize the fruits of their labor.

      What's wrong here is that a phone book, for instance, is already protected under the law. You can't just take an existing database and republish it exactly as is. What you can do is gather the same set of data and publish this in your own format. This is consistent with the intent of copyright...to protect original work.

      The more insidious problem is that those who have the money and influence will control the data.

      What will be interesting is how the overlap between corporate databases is resolved. Does an email list of potential customers from Dell infringe on the copyright of a similar list from Gateway. There would undoubtably be an overlap.

      IMHO, this is a ridiculous law.

      M
      • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:50PM (#8455740) Homepage
        First, the original intent of copyright has nothing to do with allowing creators to realize the fruits of their labor. If _labor_ were important, than we'd already have database copyrights since they operate entirely on a 'sweat of the brow' argument.

        No, the intent of copyright is to promote the public good, specifically the dual public interests of seeing that more original and derivative works are created, and that more works are in the public domain.

        Second, you're wrong about phone books. If a database isn't copyrighted you can indeed republish it exactly as-is.

        Facts are uncopyrightable. Compilations of facts _may_ be copyrightable, but only if they are themselves original, and even then it doesn't protect the contents. A typical phone book is not original -- the selection is all-encompassing within a given area, so that's not protected, it lists unoriginal information such as name, number, address, so that's protected, and it arranges it alphabetically by last name, and that's not original nor protected.

        This is a ridiculous law, but you don't seem to know much about our extant ridiculous laws.
        • by pacc (163090)
          No, the intent of copyright is to promote the public good, specifically the dual public interests of seeing that more original and derivative works are created, and that more works are in the public domain.

          This might have been true a hundred years ago, certainly not before that when the US did not yet have much own work to protect, and certainly not much later when the public good was just a stage for larger interests keen on keeping power to themselves.

          But yes, for the public good, copyrights could be s
          • Well, it remains the only constitutional intent for copyright. Obviously many people are out there perverting it for their own interests.

            And why wouldn't it have been true before the 20th century? All the contemporary writings on the subject revolved around that. The language in the Constitution is pretty clear, as was it before that, all the way back to the Statute of Anne.
      • by Aneurysm9 (723000) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:51PM (#8455745)
        No, actually, under current law you are entirely within your right (absent additional contractual obligations) to copy verbatim an existing database. The "sweat of the brow" doctrine to which you seem to refer was flatly rejected by the Supreme Court in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 [findlaw.com] (1991). Phone books and other collections of facts are not copyrightable because "originality is a constitutional requirement" and collections of fact do not possess the requisite originality. Certain presentations of collections of facts may be eligible for copyright protection, but the underlying facts are still in the public domain.

        As for database overlap, that wouldn't be a problem if this law were implemented. Separate creations of the same set of facts are still separate.

    • Amen Brother ... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pherris (314792) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:58PM (#8455850) Homepage Journal
      Work, shopping and prison. That's all the US Govt wants us to have. Free speech is dying and could be dead in a decade or two. Democrat or Republican, it doesn't matter, they all suck.

      In my opinion, there's only one answer: amend the US Constitution so that Reps and Sens can only serve two terms (like the President) and limit campaign contributions to $100 per person to each candidate in each election. No PACs, no unions, no companies and no churches, only voters can give.

      But of course Congress would kill that in a second.

      Rome is burning and George II is just playin' the banjo to some corporations music.

    • You gotz your facts a little in a mess here.

      Corporations will squeeze every last damn cent they can out of anyone.
      I'm all for corporations making profits

      Now your first statement seems to be an opinion against the second statement. How can you be opposed to increasing profit margins (squeezing pennies) and for making profits. That's their job as put forward by the stockholders of the company to make money.

      When will the government stop this capitalism run amok?
      the government helping protect this

      W
  • by NinjaPablo (246765) <ninjapablo.smashtech@net> on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:34PM (#8455489) Homepage Journal
    A 1997 case between Motorola and the National Basketball Association could serve as an example. After Motorola sent basketball scores to its customers' pagers, the NBA sued the company for misappropriating its property. A U.S. Appeals Court, however, ruled against the NBA.

    This seems like mostly the same thing. If this thing does get passed, it will probably be overturned quickly by a court.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:37PM (#8455533)
      It's never safe to assume the courts will do the right thing.
    • Just because there is precidence doesn't mean that teh courts will follow it. There are many times when they don't follow precidence, they just do what they "intrepret". And there are so many laws now they can "intrepret" things in a lot of different ways.
    • This seems like mostly the same thing. If this thing does get passed, it will probably be overturned quickly by a court.

      IANAL but that doesn't make any sense.

      The precedent is irrelevant. They're taking something that was legal under the law and passing a law to make it illegal. If a case is brought to court over that law and the law is found to be unconstitutional, then it might be overturned. The precedent would have no bearing since the law itself is changed.

    • by afidel (530433) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:02PM (#8455898)
      Actually the most relevant case is Feist vs Rural Telecom. There the supremes used two branches of logic to overturn the lower courts rulings that the white and yellow pages of Rural were protected by copyright:

      "Article I, 8, cl. 8, of the Constitution mandates originality as a prerequisite for copyright protection. The constitutional requirement necessitates independent creation plus a modicum of creativity. Since facts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship, they are not original, and thus are not copyrightable. Although a compilation of facts may possess the requisite originality because the author typically chooses which facts to include, in what order to place them, and how to arrange the data so that readers may use them effectively, copyright protection extends only to those components of the work that are original to the author, not to the facts themselves. This fact/expression dichotomy severely limits the scope of protection in fact-based works. Pp. 344-351

      And

      The Copyright Act of 1976 and its predecessor, the Copyright Act of 1909, leave no doubt that originality is the touchstone of copyright protection in directories and other fact-based works. The 1976 Act explains that copyright extends to "original works of authorship," 17 U.S.C. 102(a), and that there can be no copyright in facts, 102(b). [499 U.S. 340, 341] A compilation is not copyrightable per se, but is copyrightable only if its facts have been "selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship." 101 (emphasis added). Thus, the statute envisions that some ways of selecting, coordinating, and arranging data are not sufficiently original to trigger copyright protection. Even a compilation that is copyrightable receives only limited protection, for the copyright does not extend to facts contained in the compilation. 103(b). Lower courts that adopted a "sweat of the brow" or "industrious collection" test - which extended a compilation's copyright protection beyond selection and arrangement to the facts themselves - misconstrued the 1909 Act and eschewed the fundamental axiom of copyright law that no one may copyright facts or ideas. Pp. 351-361.

      The first point (and to me the more important one since it is based on constitutional law) still stands. However the second one is basically eliminated since Congress is amending the copyright law to include sets of facts.
  • by ravenspear (756059) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:35PM (#8455514)
    Send a free fax to your Congressmen and Senators here [tpc.int].
  • by yukster (586300) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:36PM (#8455525)

    This is a terrible idea... and that's a fact.

    (Please see my lawyers if you'd like to license this fact...)

  • by mindstrm (20013) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:36PM (#8455527)
    True enough.

    Now. Let's consider the database as a whole.

    Do you feel that any database you take the time to put together should have no protection whatseover? As a whole, I mean..

    We can probably agree that wholesale copying of my database should not be allowed... even if the individual facts are not copyrightable.

    The question becomes, where do we draw the line? Should the DB owner get no protection?
    • by cowscows (103644) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:41PM (#8455598) Journal
      You protect the DB by not allowing anyone who wants it access. If someone breaks into your computers and takes it, there's laws against computer crimes to cover that.
    • by nojomofo (123944) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:41PM (#8455599) Homepage
      I don't see why we need laws to offer you this protection. You can very well enter a contract with anyone who you allow to use your database stating that they are not allowed to resell it, give the info away, etc. You retain complete control. What's wrong with treating "databases" like trade secrets?
    • by prgrmr (568806) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:45PM (#8455665) Journal
      A database can be considered intellectual property and a trade secret without being copyrightable, thereby providing any corporation any legitimate protection they may need.

      The catch is as soon as you share, your secret isn't a secret any more, and this is where the corporate money-grubers don' want the the process to stop.
    • by *weasel (174362) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:50PM (#8455739)
      If the material in the database is copyrightable then your database is already protected under existing law.

      All news stories for online editions of newspapers are stored in a database. That data is copyrightable - and as such it is already safe.

      The issue at hands regards someone who creates a database of non-copyrightable information, but wants to extend copyright onto that collection of data.

      Eg. a database of phonenumbers, or a database of box-scores.

      If the DB 'owner' is not aggregating copyrightable content, then no, he should not have the right to copyright the sum collection of that information.

      This is where the sports precedent comes in -- the supreme court decided that a league cannot copyright its box-scores, nor an aggregation of those scores.

      Keep in mind, if the information in your database is something you can have a copyright for, your rights are already protected under existing law.
      This is a blatant 'land-grab' attempt to extend copyright protection to information that is currently not copyrightable.
    • The question becomes, where do we draw the line? Should the DB owner get no protection?

      Short answer: No.

      Long answer: Because as you say, where do we draw the line? The whole DB? 50% of the DB? 10%? 1%? And what about a DB of DBs? How would you like not being able to access your DB because it has now become a fact in someone else's DB?
  • by surreal-maitland (711954) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:37PM (#8455529) Journal
    from the permitted acts section: (a) INDEPENDENTLY GENERATED OR GATHERED INFORMATION- 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. so fear not, you'll still be able to get that cute girl's phone number once you learn her name.
  • Wrong direction... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yog (19073) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:37PM (#8455531) Homepage Journal
    We should be moving toward more open sharing of information, not the opposite. All we'll end up with is a dearth of new knowledge. It will be like pouring hot salt water into the gears; eventually it will rust up and grind to a halt.

    As usual, everyone should write to their congress critters [loc.gov] and register their opinions.
  • by pajeromanco (575906) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:37PM (#8455540)
    Please somebody explain it to me. As far as I can see, this Act is valid only for the USA. I guess some "googlebot" launched outside the US could grab the info and show it.
    I see this Act valid for some databases, but I can't see it applicable in the Internet.
    As I said, this law stuff is too much to me. Any help would be great.
    • by KjetilK (186133) <kjetil@@@kjernsmo...net> on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:47PM (#8455691) Homepage Journal
      Well, for one thing: Laws tend to be "harmonized". I expect this to become law here in Norway very soon too. No, I do not expect there will be a public debate, and if it is, it will mean nothing for the law.

      I think this may mean that the "Semantic Web" [w3.org] is dead. It never was allowed the time to take off, but an important part of it was to allow computers to make sense out of data, for example having agents roam around and gather facts, and present it to the user any way the user likes. You'd bet if anybody tries this, it will get beaten to the ground by this law at the first attempt, and any subsequent attempts to research or commercialize applications doing this would get into so deep legal problems it will simply not be feasible.

      So much for Intellectual Property encouraging innovation.

  • No it doesn't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nytmare (572906) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:37PM (#8455543) Homepage
    This bill would allow companies to copyright databases and goes directly against the idea that nobody can own a fact." Um sure, just like current copyright law for books goes directly against the idea that nobody can own a word? What planet are you from.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:39PM (#8455559)
    A
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    F
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    H
    I
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    K
    L
    M
    N
    O
    P
    Q
    R
    S
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    U
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    X
    Y
    Z


    Licenses to use any of the information on my copyrighted list are available now at very reasonable rates. Discounts are available for bulk users. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Neal Stephenson!

  • I want a payment (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rm007 (616365) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:39PM (#8455567) Journal
    Presumably if a company wants to claim intellectual property rights over, for example, a consumer information database, they will pay me for use of information about me. I happen to keep quite a lot of data in various records. I would be willing license use of this information to other database providers for a small payment. Kidding aside, if they are going to claim some form of rights over data and not just how it is presented, they are going to have recognise the interests of individual data subjects.
  • No more libraries (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gcaseye6677 (694805) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:39PM (#8455571)
    This bill would be the end of libraries as we know them. Other than copyrighted books, there's not much they would be able to have in their collections. How could they afford what would be the new astronomical prices of those indexes and journals once the 'fact tax' is paid to all the corporations that claim ownership to the facts?
  • Ahem. Almanacs. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cardshark2001 (444650) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:39PM (#8455572)
    Collections of facts have enjoyed copyrightable status for a long, long time. That's what an almanac is.

    It doesn't mean you can't quote a fact from an almanac, just that you can't steal large portions and claim them as yours.

    A dictionary is like a database of words. The dictionary provider doesn't own the particular words, they own the collection of them. Sometimes dictionary makers put false words in there to catch competitors stealing their lists.

    Putting together a database can be very hard work and if someone can just rip off the whole thing, it makes providers think twice before they bother to do it.


    • Sometimes dictionary makers put false words in there to catch competitors stealing their lists.
      Darn... after I spent an hour arguing over a word last night while playing Scrabble [hasbro.com], I find out the word may have been fake after all !
    • Re:Ahem. Almanacs. (Score:5, Informative)

      by prgrmr (568806) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:48PM (#8455705) Journal
      What's copyrightable in an almanac is the presenation and exposition of the facts, not the facts themselves. It's the same principle under which photographs of works in the public domain are copyrightable. There's a section in the copyright statues about it.
      • Re:Ahem. Almanacs. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cardshark2001 (444650) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:03PM (#8455910)
        What's copyrightable in an almanac is the presenation and exposition of the facts, not the facts themselves.

        Yes, and if you read the fine article, it's the collection of facts that is proposed for protection, not the individual facts themselves. Again, I would say that this is fair; putting together a large database is hard work. You're free to create your own database using the same methods, and put it in the public domain. Why should you be free to reproduce someone else's database in its entirety (or a substantial portion) without permission, even if it is a large collection of publicly available knowledge?

    • by Smallpond (221300) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:54PM (#8455795) Homepage Journal
      You mean "nucular" isn't a real word?

      Tarnation.
    • But... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by etymxris (121288) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:59PM (#8455860)
      We must remember that copyrights and patents exist for a single purpose, to foster the growth of knowledge and innovation. There is no abstract "right" for any person to hold a monopoly on ideas or information except as such "rights" foster the growth of knowledge and innovation.

      So we must look at this case. Has there been a lack of growth in factual databases due to the inability to profit from them in the same way that, say, the author of a novel can? No, I think not. If then is the case then it seems to undermine the whole enterprise of copyrights and patents altogether. For it seems that if a company can and will go through so much trouble to create a database of phone numbers without any monopoly protection, that lesser efforts will surely happen with or without such protections as well.

      So, if these legal monopolies were created for a purpose and they no longer serve to help fulfill that purpose, then what good are they? None at all.
  • Phone Books (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TruffleGuy (664280) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:40PM (#8455575) Homepage
    Isn't a phone book a kind of data base?

    He also says that despite Kupferschmid's characterization, the bill puts no limit on the amount of information someone needs to take from a database to violate the law.

    So if I write down a phone number out of a phone book would I be thrown in a pound me in the ass prison
  • As long as.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by herrvinny (698679) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:40PM (#8455583)
    As long as *individuals* can also copyright information, it's okay by me. Build up a db of info about me, copyright it, BAM, I can sue people/companies with my personal information.
  • by southpolesammy (150094) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:40PM (#8455590) Journal
    Sounds like Webster's is in for a big payday. Every word is now owned by them.
  • The ACM loves you (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BlueboyX (322884) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:41PM (#8455600)
    The ACM had a vote (in which I voted) about this very issue. The vote was in responce to this bill and used it as an example, but the concept that we (the members of the ACM) were deciding was generalized. The winning opionion by far was that current legislation already offers sufficient protection. As such, additional legislation can only be rudundant or bad.

    So in order to actually pass this bill, both houses need to consider why a huge organization of professionals (as opposed to some slashdotters and pirates) are against it.
  • by dcgaber (473400) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:41PM (#8455602)
    It was reported out of the Commerce Committee today. 2 versions, one that codifies the HotNews case, and is very mild based on common law precedent (and pretty much how the courts currently interpret these issues), and the more onerous one which was reported unfavorably. So it looks like it may be stalled and not reach the floor.

    This is a good thing!
  • So how about this (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:42PM (#8455615) Journal
    Register yourself as a company.

    Make a database of your personal information (Name, phone number, address, family history, etc).

    Sue other companies for using your "copyrighted data", which is held by your company.

    Profit! (For the lawyers anyway)
    =Smidge=
  • my 2x10^-2 dollars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Valar (167606) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:42PM (#8455616)
    It seems to be like this is more about copyrighting collections of facts than the facts themselves. For example, if it is a trivial collection of facts (for example, the collection of information "My name is Foo"), I don't believe it is coverable. Thusly, the companies couldn't copyright a pairing between you and your phone number and then sue you for giving your number out. Similarly, a maker of encyclopedias couldn't copyright the fact "The marmot is a mammal." and then sue other people/companies who also make the claim that marmots are mammals.

    In the case of encyclopedias, the collection of information would already be covered by copyright (it is a written work). However, legally, the idea of databases as copyrightable material is a little shakey. Is it a work of art? A written work? It falls under that hard to define region of 'other' works of authorship. The law aims to clarify this.

    Oh, and make the overlords happy.

  • by sssmashy (612587) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:42PM (#8455620)

    "The law of unintended consequences in this case has the potential to be huge," Brodsky said.

    Actually, I think the law of unintended consequences has been licensed and copyrighted to the Elect Ralph Nader Committee for quite some time now.

  • by LibrePensador (668335) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:43PM (#8455630) Journal
    I haven't looked at the details of the bill. I am staunch defender of copyleft and I am the first to oppose the current copyright regime. In fact, all of my work is released under a creative commons license.

    But, and here's the part where I get sent to burn in karma hell, there are "collections of facts" that should be copyrightable.

    Let me give you an example, quality multi-lingual terminological databases and glossaries are multi-year projects that demand a great deal of capital and human labor.

    These terms are out there for anyone to do the work and compile them, yet no one will do this kind of tedious and thorough work unless they have a reasonable guarantee of being properly remunerated for their efforts now and into the future.

    I would argue that a 10-year copyright period is more than sufficient for this kind of work to thrive.

    In an ideal world, universities would band together to create these works and then release them to the public domain, but most universities these days operate as large corporate conglomerates and have very little interest in producing public goods.
  • by Speare (84249) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:44PM (#8455649) Homepage Journal

    Section. 8.
    Clause 8: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

    How does this advance Arts or Science? It's a real stretch to say that a list of customer data is a Writing or a Discovery.

  • by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:46PM (#8455684)
    This doesn't allow you to copyright facts. It even says so in the linked slashdot blurb. It bears some similarities to copyright, but it's a completely different class of law.

    The last thing we need is for slashdot to misinform everyone on something that fundamental about the bill.
  • mmmmmm genomics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wheatking (608436) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:48PM (#8455700)
    ... the interesting question is that could this be used by various bio-tech companies to start claiming genomes (of rats or rice or humans) as similar protected 'collected' data. if so, there is an interesting debate to be had there for 'open source' sequencing (mySequence!) and how to make the results available for research. same goes for proteomics and gene expression research. arguably, they are just uncovering 'facts' and the groups they occur in...
  • by V_M_Smith (186361) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:49PM (#8455718)

    Companies (and individuals) expend a great deal of time, energy, and resources to compile information. Why should they not be afforded some protection for that effort? The example of legal databases from the article is a perfect one -- it takes time, money, and a large amount of effort to enter cases and decisions into a database. This proposed law will not make those cases copyrighted, but simply the aggregated collection of cases in the database. There's a world of difference.

    All this means is that you can't freely copy a set of information compiled by someone else without their permission. Seems fair to me. It's not the facts themselves (e.g. phone numbers, stock quotes etc.) that would be copyrighted, but some specific collection of facts. If you really want a database of stock quotes, you're free to create your own (or ask the copyright holder if you can use theirs).

  • by Tikiman (468059) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:52PM (#8455760)
    Before getting all pissed off, Take a look [loc.gov] at the bill. Among other things, it explictly makes allowances for educational and scientific purposes, as well as for news and sports. This isn't about "owning facts", it's about protecting the interests of those who take the time to compile a database and preventing others from obtaining that database and sellling it for themselves. You can sit at an NBA game and edit your web pages in real time, if you want. You can't slurp Yahoo's NBA page, reformat the text, and place it on your own page for profit. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.
    • by finkployd (12902) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:20PM (#8456101) Homepage
      You can sit at an NBA game and edit your web pages in real time, if you want. You can't slurp Yahoo's NBA page, reformat the text, and place it on your own page for profit. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.

      So how do I prove I sat through it and generated the data on my own rather than got it from a copywrited database? If the data is the same (and it should be) it is my word against their's.

      Actually no, it isn't. It is their army of lawyers against me, I would be bankrupt before I ever got a chance to get a word in.

      Finkployd
  • by dbirchall (191839) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:53PM (#8455772) Journal
    I run a site (chocolocate.com - no clickable link because I don't want my DSL to get slashdotted right now, but feel free to visit if you want) that's a searchable index of chocolate web sites around the world. It's been almost 10 years in the making (yes, really), and contains links to sites, as well as brief comments on each and every one. And yeah, I've got all that data, as well as other metadata necessary to the operation of the site, stored in a database.

    I realized some time ago that it'd be relatively trivial for someone to come along and scrape all the URLs I link to, put 'em on a page with a buncha ads, and try to make a buck off stuff I'd spent a lot of time on. But I'm not terribly concerned about it happening. Why?

    1. My comments are pretty clearly covered by copyright - so they'd have nothing but a list of links.
    2. I switched some time ago to feeding a site's database ID to a redirect script, which does a quick lookup and issues an HTTP redirect to the desired URL. So there are no links to other sites visible on my site - gotta click. That makes scraping that much harder.
    3. I recently started displaying results in pages of 20 each, so folks no longer have to wait for a page of 600 results (and there were some like that!) to load. (Okay, okay, by breaking it into more pages, I can also increase the odds of them seeing a Google AdSense ad they feel like clicking on. :)

    There's no law saying that database output must be presented in a format that's easy for people to scrape, any more than email addresses.

  • by CarrionBird (589738) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:55PM (#8455808) Journal
    More unnecessary, redundant legislation made solely for the short term benefit of a few people, without any regard for how much we are screwing our future selves.

    The legal system needs a reset button.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @04:57PM (#8455831) Homepage
    In a landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that copyright "rewards originality, not effort." That's the principal that needs to be applied. A publisher may spend a lot of time, effort and money promoting (say) a reprint of a book originally published in 1900, but even if the book practically owes its current existence to their hard work, it is still in the public domain.
  • Relevant quotes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:02PM (#8455895)
    The bill's biggest backers are the Software and Information Industry Association; Reed Elsevier, which owns the LexisNexis database; and Westlaw, the biggest publisher of legal databases.

    So I guess the (high priced) LexisNexis feels threatened by the free information provided by Google et. al.

    An encyclopedia site not only could own the historical facts contained in its online entries, but could do so long after the copyright on authorship of the written entries had expired. Unlike copyright, which expires 70 years after the death of a work's author, the Misappropriation Act doesn't designate an expiration date.

    Finally we're getting perpetual ownership of information. It's only a matter of time before it gets put into regular copyrights in order to harmonize the laws. Disney's wet dream come true.

    Commercial database companies say they invest millions of dollars in collecting, editing and organizing information for their customers, but don't have adequate protection to prevent someone from stealing the information to compete with them.

    To me this is the worst possible justification for a new law. No one made them invest millions of dollars.

  • Fight This! (Score:5, Informative)

    by GeorgeH (5469) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:04PM (#8455916) Homepage Journal
    The EFF provides an easy way to tell your representatives what you think on this. Just go to action.eff.org [eff.org] and it will let you send comments to the government. Be sure to put your personal thoughts in the comments because they give more weight to non-form letters.
  • Google (Score:3, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:05PM (#8455932)
    Google has a database of a large part of the web and usenet. Some of the fields in that database are the pages and images themselves.

    Does this mean that Google can have copyright over just about everything online and in the retail sector?

    All your pages are belong to Google?
  • by Vexler (127353) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:09PM (#8455972) Journal
    It is interesting to note that, whereas many have been paranoid about government's intention to censor speech and communication (which are ultimately made possible by the possession of information), now it appears that the right of possession of information may be on the verge of being controlled and censored - but with a twist. The bill would allow private companies to tie our hands while the government washes its own.
  • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:19PM (#8456094) Homepage Journal
    Section 3(a)(1) requires that "generated, gathered, or maintained through a substantial expenditure of financial resources or time".

    "Substantial", of course, is undefined, but I wonder if this means that a company's catalogs would be included, or not. While it would take me great effort to suck in Wal Mart's entire pricing structure, they presumably get it pretty easily.
  • You don't own facts (Score:5, Informative)

    by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:24PM (#8456154) Homepage Journal
    According to 4(a), you don't really own the facts in the database. What you own is the database itself. If I can gather the same facts some other way, I'm entitled to that. I'm only forbidden from accessing your database and using it myself.

    "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."

    That seems fair to me, actually. The goal overall of this bill is to say that if you put forth effort to gather a bunch of data, the effort of gathering it is worth money. The information is free, but the actual gathering of it is an artifact.

    It makes a database like a book. Even if you eliminated copyrights, it would still be illegal for you to steal an actual book from me. Obviously the usual arguments that a database is not an artifact apply. I'm not going to argue them here; I'm just pointing out what the bill says.
  • Stop being stupid! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by werdna (39029) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @06:06PM (#8456632) Journal
    This bill would allow companies to copyright databases. (Think phone-number databases) and goes directly against the idea that nobody can own a fact.

    Let me make this clear: I believe the database bill to be terrible and dangerous legislation. I also believe that the technical community can be instrumental in helping to stop it.

    Let me make this clear as well: If the technical community persists in their decade-long strategy of histrionic "chicken-little" screaming every time a bad bill comes out, we will once again see nothing but bad legislation pass.

    This is what happened with DMCA, it is what happened with the Patriot Act changes, and it is now happening again with the database bill. Note that the database legislation was originally attached to DMCA, but withdrawn due to excellent lobbying. That can and should happen again, unless we screw up the way we did with DMCA.

    Meaningless or false statement (depending how you define terms) such as the ones above serve noone but those who support the bill. The bill does not provide copyright protections (it is a different kind of right, both less and more in different ways), nor does it provide ownership of "facts."

    Oh, yes. There are probably rationalizations that foolish people might proffer to defend these remarks, but by the time they have finished confusing those who do not need to be converted, they have long since lost credibility, and the attention of every relevant legislator or person who might otherwise have moved favorably from the fence.

    So, please, oh please! STOP THE MADNESS. Remember the line from Apollo 13: "Gentlemen we are not going to do this, we're not going to go bouncing off the walls for ten minutes because were just going to end up right back here with the same problems."

    If you are interested in this, and you should be, take the time to read the bill and learn what there is to worry about. Don't oppose it as a knee-jerk, and focus on what is wrong with the bill. Maybe it can be completely defeated, maybe not. But it will never be defeated, and like DMCA, is far more likely to be passed entirely, unless we show an intelligent, balanced and "straight-shooting" front.

    The bill needs to be defeated. I assure you that remarks like the foregoing are not the way to do it.
  • by fname (199759) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @06:27PM (#8456859) Journal
    I just wrote to my congresswoman [house.gov]. I encourage the others here to do the same. Here's what I wrote.
    Please oppose HR3261. This bill will have the sad effect of making facts private information. This bill makes it very easy for sports leagues to sue those who provide statistics from the game, would allow race organizers to prevent 3rd parties from listing a collection of winning times, and may even prevent publication of stock quotes. This law will have a chilling effect on free speech, and will encourage frivolous lawsuits against those entities which do such a wonderful job of providing information, including internet search engines and public libraries. This law wil not help consumers, and will make it more costly for citzens to access factual information. Please oppose this bill.
    Please post here any the comments you sent to your elected representative.
  • by Dr. Mu (603661) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @06:59PM (#8457339)
    What makes this law significant from a mathematical point of view is that sets would be copyrightable, not just permutations. For example, if I extraced all the words from Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, put them in a bag and shook them up, then published them in whatever order they came out of the bag, I wouldn't be violating any current copyright. A novel is more than just a collection of words, in the same way that a song is more than just a collection of notes. What present-day copyright law protects is the order in which those words or notes appear. Now our brilliant congresspeople want to stir the bag and say, "No, it's not just the order that's important, but the collection itself that matters, regardless of the order in which the individual items appear."

    Under the proposed law, who's to say what consititues a "datum" in a database? Wouldn't a word be sufficient? Why couldn't the author of a novel (who expended a considerable effort to assemble that particular collection of words), claim the novel is a database and sue someone, who uses the same words in a different novel, for infringement? This is the logical conclusion of such a faulty bill and is, of course, absurd.

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