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Facts and Databases

[This post is an addendum to the earlier essay on Open Data: Openness and Licensing]

It is important to be clear that any IP ‘rights’ in data(bases) are not ‘rights’ in the facts those data represent but in the ‘data collection’ (or database). Here I try to explain the difference (fairly crudely) with some examples. For more on this and IP ‘rights’ in data(bases) in general see the Guide to Open Data Licensing.

  1. Geodata. Suppose we have a database of longitude and latitude pairs for cities. Now, no-one can ‘own’ the fact that London is at a particular long/lat. However, it may be possible for someone to have an ‘IP’ (monopoly) right in their particular collection of such facts. In that case, if you go out and copy the long/lat from the protected database you might well infringe but if you go and calculate the long-lat yourself you won’t.

  2. Chemistry. Alternatively, consider boiling points of substances. No-one can stop you going and calculating (and publishing) the boiling point of some substance but someone might be able to stop you if your data was taken direct from their database.

To summarize: “You can’t get IP rights in facts but you can (in some jurisdictions) get them in a collection of data representing those facts”

2 responses to Facts and Databases

  1. Which is why db.s are protected by contractual law and not copyrights, eih? (.. In the US and/or in Europe AFAIK..).

    BTW. There’s a(t least one good) plugin to enable blog commenters to subscribe by email to possible further comments on any given entry

  2. Jaako: DBs are protected by copyright and sui generis rights in a whole variety of juriscdictions (the EU in particular has the Database Directive). Even in the US, pace Feist, the situation is not clear (some DBs may be protected depending on the level of originality employed in constructing them).

    It is definitely true that no jurisdiction protects facts per se (though obviously you can get patents and the like in usage of particular facts, for example, the manufacture of a pharmaceutical).

    Re. the plugin: could you point us to it and we’ll see if we can get it installed.

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