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Who Owns The Facts? 490

Posted by timothy
from the mere-aggregation dept.
windowpain writes "With all of the furor over the Patriot Act a truly scary bill that expands the rights of corporations at the expense of individuals was quietly introduced into congress in October. In Feist v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co. the Supreme Court ruled that a mere collection of facts can't be copyrighted. But H.R. 3261, the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act neatly sidesteps the copyright question and allows treble damages to be levied against anyone who uses information that's in a database that a corporation asserts it owns. This is an issue that crosses the political spectrum. Left-leaning organizations like the American Library Association oppose the bill and so do arch-conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly, who wrote an impassioned column exposing the bill for what it is the week after it was introduced."
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Who Owns The Facts?

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  • Who owns the facts? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:36PM (#7605534) Homepage Journal

    [T]he Supreme Court ruled that a mere collection of facts can't be copyrighted.

    Would the Linux people, then, be able to assert that their C code is merely programmable facts which generates certain (MD5|MD4|SHA1|etc) hashes? Chew on that one, SCO.
    • In that case (Score:4, Insightful)

      by boobsea (728173) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:40PM (#7605566) Journal
      You can say goodbye to the GPL being enforceable.

      If it goes one way, it can go the other in this situation.
    • by benna (614220) *
      This would not be a good thing at all. GPL require copyright. This would open linux up to being incorperated into closed source derived work without distributing the linux source.
      • by pavon (30274) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:32AM (#7606369)
        No, it would be a good thing. It has always been the position of the FSF that software hoarding is unethical, and that software copyright should be abolished. The GPL is a mid-term tool used to prevent people from restricting the use (/modification/distribution) of GPL'd software.

        From the contents of your post, I see you are aware that if we were to just release software into the public domain, modifications could then legally become propietary. So instead we it release under the GPL which prevents that from happening. But if there was no legal basis for restricting software - if all software was pubic domain, then there would be no need for the GPL. Copyleft is only necisarry because of the existence of copyright.
        • by Afty0r (263037) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @06:54AM (#7607618) Homepage
          From the contents of your post, I see you are aware that if we were to just release software into the public domain, modifications could then legally become propietary. So instead we it release under the GPL which prevents that from happening. But if there was no legal basis for restricting software - if all software was pubic domain, then there would be no need for the GPL. Copyleft is only necisarry because of the existence of copyright.

          If software was not copyrighted, the world of software development would be free to take and use any code they wanted from anywhere, at any time, and do anything with it they pleased.

          This would lead to the distribution of much of what is now "free" software, but in compiled form, sold only after being compiled with a compiler which would completely obfuscate the resulting executable making it exceedingly hard to reverse engineer/decompile the code.

          Essentially, we would live in a world where the highest paid engineers were those who know how to obfuscate well. "Free" software wouldn't gain anything, and indeed may be eclipsed by closed source versions of software which have proprietary modifications to make them more attractive. Unlike todays situation where closed source companies cannot make effective business use of GPLd (or similar) code, we would enter into an era of unparalleled code theft and plagiarism. Legal, of course.

          What I think the FSF wants to get to, is a point where copyright *does not apply* to software, and in addition, it becomes a legal requirement to distribute copies of source code with all software.

          In return for the legal protection of copyright, developers should have to distribute their source code - this I do not argue with at all - but copyright (or copyleft) itself will still be required to keep free software free.

          Note, that I am primarily a closed source user, but would prefer copyrighted software with mandated source code distribution.
    • by Peyna (14792) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:53PM (#7605664) Homepage
      From the bill:

      (1) PROTECTION NOT EXTENDED- Subject to paragraph (2), protection under section 3 shall not extend to computer programs, including any computer program used in the manufacture, production, operation, or maintenance of a database, or to any element of a computer program necessary to its operation.
    • by Meridun (120516) *
      From the Bill:

      SEC. 5. EXCLUSIONS.

      (stuff deleted)

      (b) COMPUTER PROGRAMS-

      (1) PROTECTION NOT EXTENDED- Subject to paragraph (2), protection under section 3 shall not extend to computer programs, including any computer program used in the manufacture, production, operation, or maintenance of a database, or to any element of a computer program necessary to its operation.
    • by KrispyKringle (672903) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:06PM (#7605758)
      A number of people pointed out that code is excluded from the bill, but they miss the point. The court ruled that they can't be copyrighted prior to the proposed bill. The bill has nothing to do with it. grub's point is that copyright law would, in this case, not extend to code. But that's still a tough sell.

      C code is no more a set of facts than poetry is a set of facts. C does more than generate hashes, for one thing (at least the Linux code does more than that, else there'd be a lot of coders who've wasted a lot of time). Code is a set of instructions, which are together part of a process. It's creative, in the sense that you put together programs in a language the same way a writer puts together a book. A collection of, say, reserved names in Java may be merely a collection of facts; an original creation is not. It's also inventive, in the patentable sense (`look-and-feel' patents, of course, raise some big controversy). But it's not simply a collection of facts.

  • by plnrtrvlr (557800) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:39PM (#7605555)
    ...that most of the people who post to slashdot don't need to worry about being in violation if this bill passes. Facts have never stopped anyone here yet!
  • Question.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by herrvinny (698679) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:39PM (#7605557)
    Then nobody can copy the yellow/white pages either.

    Quick question: does it have to be a corporation owning the database, or can it be a private individual?

  • my db (Score:5, Funny)

    by erikdotla (609033) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:42PM (#7605569)
    insert into facts (object,property) values ('sky','blue')

    There we go.
    • INSERT INTO
      DontLetCongressSee
      (object,
      property)
      SEL ECT
      object,
      property
      FROM
      facts;
    • Re:my db (Score:5, Funny)

      by AntiOrganic (650691) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:25AM (#7606337) Homepage
      This comment is a ridiculous overexaggeration of the point. Ownership of the sky, sun and moon has been traced back to a group of individuals from an area of Scandinavia now known as Norway, circa 700 A.D., when they filed an international accord stating that Valkyries under their dominion had claimed the sky in their name. Interestingly enough, they did not claim ownership of any stars or planets, so it will be interesting to look back through the archives and see who did.

      To this day, all countries utilizing airborne vehicles flying in excess of 20,000 feet must pay royalties to Norway for the commercial use of their property.
      • Re:my db (Score:3, Funny)

        by Idarubicin (579475)
        To this day, all countries utilizing airborne vehicles flying in excess of 20,000 feet must pay royalties to Norway for the commercial use of their property.

        Since the most recent surveys of Mount Everest place its altitude at 29,035 feet (8850 metres), the Nepalese have applied for an exemption from this policy for Sherpas working commercially below 30,000 feet.

        Negotiations are ongoing. There is no word yet on the legal status of climbers who become inadvertantly airborne while still above the 20,000 f

  • What's onerous? (Score:2, Informative)

    by ObviousGuy (578567)
    From the text:

    (a) LIABILITY- Any person who makes available in commerce to others a quantitatively substantial part of the information in a database generated, gathered, or maintained by another person, knowing that such making available in commerce is without the authorization of that person (including a successor in interest) or that person's licensee, when acting within the scope of its license, shall be liable for the remedies set forth in section 7 if--

    (1) the database was generated, gathered, or mai
    • Re:What's onerous? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bagheera (71311) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:53PM (#7605662) Homepage Journal
      Interesting, and thanks for posting part of the text from the bill here. I wonder if this bill isn't being snuck through to give the likes of Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, etc., more ammunition in their once and future suits against folks such as fatwallet.com - particualy around this time of year. (Amungtst all the other "Corporate entitities" who'd love to see something like this)

      If they can successfuly claim the publication of their price lists ("facts" in anyone's book) is somehow part of a " database (that) was generated, gathered, or maintained through a substantial expenditure of financial resources or time;" it'll just be more ammunition for them to keep simple facts "secret."

      Of course, considering how much influence large corporations have over the legislature in protecting their interests at the expense of the Public Good, is a bill like this any real surprise?

      • From Permitted Acts (Score:2, Informative)

        by ObviousGuy (578567)
        (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.

        So presenting the data via a reference to the original data is still allowed.
    • Re:What's onerous? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Copyright in the US is not based on "sweat of the brow" as it is in other countries, but on creative content. The intent of copyright is to encourage the creation of creative works, by providing an incentive. (That incentive has become rediculously larger than necessary, but that's another discussion.) The white pages are not copyrightable because anyone who collects the same data will have the same result - you have done work to compile them, but no creativity is involved. With this law, any arbitrary
  • by Charcharodon (611187) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:45PM (#7605592)
    If it only has to be in a database somewhere then the dictionary would be considered a database so by that logic Webster ownes the rights to pretty much anything done in the English language.

    Too bad guys (greedy corps and stupid politians) they beat you too it!

  • Hasavoosavah?!?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OrthodonticJake (624565) <[[OrthodonticJak ... ail]}{[.][[com]]> on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:48PM (#7605617) Homepage Journal
    What, so now I can't talk about something that a company thinks it owns? The question of whether or not people can own ideas or material has been pervasive for a long time (i.e., RIAA lawsuits with intellectual music property, DMCA restrictions on undermining copy protection), and I have to wonder where it's taking us. With the computer, we've seen a mass 'liberation' of thought and media, and a while ago it was considered a good thing that people could have access to culture so easily. But there have been major arguements as to what should count as a marketable product. Companies are insisting that they should be paid for their wares, and I guess from that viewpoint I agree. They should be paid for what they do. However, if what they do is think of an idea, and then if they tell everybody about that idea, I expect them to not charge me for thinking about it. I think our culture will go down the drain if it doesn't accept that some things are not private property.
    • by h4rm0ny (722443) * on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @07:12AM (#7607662) Journal
      and I have to wonder where it's taking us.

      It's taking us nowhere. All ideas are built on previous ideas and the reason they are built at all is to get ahead. When a small group owns the latest ideas then (a) no-one else can build on them for their own gain and (b) the owning group has no incentive to.

      There is no moral justification for granting exclusive ownership to someone - it implies that they alone were responsible for the idea rather than it being a product of every idea and event preceding it and that it wouldn't have been reached by others for the same reason.

      Try this [slashdot.org] to hear it put better.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:48PM (#7605621)
    "...expands the rights of corporations at the expense of individuals."

    Wrong. It limits the rights of everyone, period. Why do people so consistently miss the fact that less government involvement neatly solves problems like these?

    • Government, and laws, are neither good nor bad per se. Good laws protect people from being screwed, and bad laws, like this one, enable the screwing of people.
    • ...probably, that some people think less government solves all problems "like these" neatly, as if idealogical consistency were more important than evaluation, analysis, and good judgement.

      Also, and I realize I'm just guessing wildly here, it could be that the stated "fact" is often disguised as an opinion, as in the parent post, thus making it easily missed.
    • by DarkSarin (651985) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:28PM (#7605901) Homepage Journal
      I have to agree here, and this is one of the areas that Libertarians have it right-and both of the other parties are so far off base it is frightening. BOTH Dems and Reps are for big brother, and that is what scares me.

      Laws like this are pathetic, and should be axed before they even get on the books. My personal policy is that if you are voting, look up who votes for laws of this and DON'T support them. This is the ONLY way that we Americans will be able to maintain a reasonably free society--by removing those politicians who repeatedly support government intervention in areas that don't need it (which by the way is the vast majority of our lives).

      I will probably vote Libertarian in the next election. The only thing that turns me off is the Libertarian polits whose main platform is the legalization of marijuana as a recreational drug. This platform, although popular in certain subcultures, scares the daylights out of so many people that it will never be a winning platform.

      Personally, I would rather see an emphasis placed on deregulation of many things, lowered (or eliminated) taxes, and increased fiscal responsibility. This of course means reducing and /or cutting certain programs, but many of these should be removed from the gov't's hands in any case.

      As for ownership of data, it is my personal opinion that ANY data belongs to the person or entity which it describes. Therefore, if a company has data which describes me, I should be considered the sole OWNER, and they are permitted to use such data only insofar as I deem it permissable.

      This gets tricky, such as in the case of surveys, but essentially, if data is not traceable to a particular individual (as should be the case in surveys), then it belongs to the entity that generated such data--until such a time as they make it public. Once data is aired to the public as a fact (as in a news report, or whatnot), it should now be considered public domain, and freely usable by any who are interested.

      This does not mean that one should not cite sources, or that we should be able to access any database, but that we should have the opportunity to use information that is available.

      (As a note, I just took a Loritab and a Skelaxin(?sp), so if this doesn't make any sense or is totally crazy, just ignore me--it's the medicine talking.)
      • by SnatMandu (15204) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @04:11AM (#7607231) Homepage
        I will probably vote Libertarian in the next election. The only thing that turns me off is the Libertarian polits whose main platform is the legalization of marijuana as a recreational drug. This platform, although popular in certain subcultures, scares the daylights out of so many people that it will never be a winning platform.

        I know it's offtopic (mods, hammer away), but SO MANY PEOPLE smoke marijuana (and so many people use other drugs (many illegal) too), that it really ought not be a losing platform. The liberals are already for decriminalization, mostly; the conservatives ought to give it whirl based on the tax savings alone.
    • by Malcontent (40834) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:26AM (#7606344)
      "Why do people so consistently miss the fact that less government involvement neatly solves problems like these?"

      Because it does not. In this case if there was no govt regulation then all data collected would be de-facto property of whoever collected it. In a world without govt you would have absolutely zero control over what a corporation could do with "your" information. The best that you could possibly hope for would be to try and sue the corporation which would go nowhere because the corporation would not be breaking any laws.
  • by 1nt3lx (124618) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:49PM (#7605629) Homepage Journal
    Someone should make a fuckedrepublic website so that we can predict when our rights are revoked and for which reasons.

    Illegal search and seizure, May 8, 2005: Homeland Defense.

    Right to Private Property, September 19, 2006: Corporate Bottom Lines.

    Freedom of Speech, December 2, 2003: This post.
    • I jumped right at it, but somebody had beaten me to the task already. Looking forward to the results...
    • by demachina (71715) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:08AM (#7606210)
      I think a case could be made that Illegal search and seizure was largely legalized in the Patriot Act [uga.edu]. Of course when you pass a law legalizing it, it is no longer illegal search and seizure. The FBI can now legally break and enter to sneak in to your home without your knowledge or the serving of a warrant. These first began in the 1980's under the Regan administration but it wasn't made explicitly legal until the Patriot act.

      The FBI can also subpoena a vast array of private information about you by merely writing a letter to themselves branding you as a terrorism suspect. They no longer need the involvement of a judge so they have shredded the constitutional checks and balances the judiciary held on the executive branch.

      I really wish the Republican party and conservatives would stop spouting rhetoric about how they are the party against big government. They seem to only want to limit government intrusion in to money making by wealthy party members and to end social programs that benefit the poor. Though, as the recent Medicare bill shows they are now even in favor of big government social programs as long as most of the money is going in to the pockets of their rich friends.

      When it comes to the military, spying, dirty tricks, law enforecemnt and shredding the rights of individuals the Republican party really loves the biggest, most malignant government imaginable. Of course the Democrats were bulldozed in to going along with the Patriot act so are almost equally to blame.

  • "I'd like to cooperate, Detective. But... you see... there's the issue of copyright..."
  • by ninejaguar (517729) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:52PM (#7605656)
    If the Left is against this, and the Right is against this, who's pushing it? The Middle?

    = 9J =

  • Loophole (Score:2, Informative)

    by sysopd (617656)
    (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.

    PHP db hook and you're home free

  • Connections (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plnrtrvlr (557800) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:54PM (#7605670)
    Innovation and invention rely on the exchange of ideas in order to happen. The more freely ideas are echanged, the greater the pace of innovation and invention. There used to be a wonderful show on TLC that illustrated this idea called "Connections", back in the day when TLC still carried original and interesting programming... It would seem to me that political interests -being wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate interests- are trying to legislate innovation and invention out of existance. Furthermore, this isn't a partisan problem: Dems and Repubs alike are more interested in serving the corporate dollars that have elected them than they are interested in serving their constituents. While we all yell about Bush, Haliburton and Diebold we are ingnoring the real problem of election reform, and if and when the Dems ever regain the high office, the problem will be as negleted as it is under the current administration. If we are to restore the free exchange of ideas to stimulate invention and innovation, we need to sperate the politicians from the corporate dollar.
  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by /dev/trash (182850) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:54PM (#7605671) Homepage Journal
    quietly introduced into congress



    99% of bills introduced into Congress are quiet ( unless you watch C-SPAN. No where in the Constitution does it say that a loud proclamation of all bills must be made.

    • I DO watch c-span you insensative clod!
    • Makes me wonder if there is a good congress agenda tracking site out there. Of course if I had that much time to pay attention to issues I'd be an activist.
  • by Meridun (120516) * on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:54PM (#7605676) Homepage
    Ok, I was all ready to go ballistic over this one, but after reading the text of the bill, I'm not really seeing the issue.

    A few quick notes:
    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.
    • One recent example is a store's sale prices.

      If I know them before hand, I can't tell anyone unless I am a news organization.

      Why should I be prevented from telling anyone? Aren't I just saying facts?
      • Unless you're ripping these prices off of the store's own database, then you have no issue. If you somehow collect these prices independently, then go for it.

        If you ARE ripping this data directly out of their database, then yes, you are liable. But then again, they've spent time and money preparing such a list of prices, so they have a case about not wanting people to republish them in bulk.

        However, note the provision allowing for hyperlinking (and specifically, deep-linking). If you were to give a lis
    • Open them eyes... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:11PM (#7605782)
      You need to read the case about the building codes. I suggest you go to the guy's site where he tried to publish the building codes, and the case went all the way to SCOTUS.

      Last time I checked (few months ago) the codes still weren't published even though he won.

      I've tried getting the codes myself, for my state. They're over $70. Think about it for a minute. These aren't just a collection of facts. These codes are the LAW. So I have to pay a private company to find out what the law is.

      What did the guy do? After searching through various retail locations and coming up empty, he decided to publish THE LAW of building codes for the particular town he was interested in, and he was taken to court by a private company.

      I thought I could search my state/city's web site to find out what the codes were, but thanks to the private company, virtually all states/cities/towns in the US "adopt by reference", and don't publish what the actual codes are, therefore you are forced to pay if you want to know what the law is.

      To make it simple, codes are necessarily published in a certain order, in a certain format. Changing the format wouldn't work. So if the private company publishes a book of codes (they do), you can't copy the book and put it on a web site, according to the proposed law. If the company also publishes the codes online, you can't do the same. So you'll go to their site you say? They don't publish all the codes. And the ones they do publish, you have to go through multiple directory trees, or they make it exceedingly and annoyingly difficult to get more than one or two sub sections at a time. If you are familiar with building codes, this is a non-starter.

      The other option is 1. going to the library (it's a reference book, you can't take it out. or 2. going to the county clerk (a major pita in most cities, and it's a reference, you can't take it home).

      Can you see it now?
      • by Meridun (120516) *
        Er, no, I still don't see it.

        Unless I'm misunderstanding you, you're aggravated because your city/county/state has building codes (and other laws) and they're being a bunch of slack bastards about publishing them in an easily used format. There are dead tree versions and unhelpful govt workers, but these are annoying to deal with.

        Now, some other company was started by someone who also noticed what a pain in the ass it was to deal with these codes and figured people might pay to be able to access them in
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:50PM (#7606051)
          Unless I'm misunderstanding you, you're aggravated because your city/county/state has building codes (and other laws) and they're being a bunch of slack bastards about publishing them in an easily used format. There are dead tree versions and unhelpful govt workers, but these are annoying to deal with.

          You are misunderstanding, and that's what's annoying. The government entities, whether they are state, city, or town, are NOT publishing period. They have INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE the codes (laws), and they have purchased for the clerk (because the clerk is in the court) one copy for the clerk's use. Because everything that is in the clerk's office that is a law can be read by the public during certain business hours, the public can access if the clerk is not busy, if it isn't a lunch hour, if you can take time off during a work day...

          These are laws. Not a collection of facts like baseball statistics.

          Now, some other company was started by someone who also noticed what a pain in the ass it was to deal with these codes and figured people might pay to be able to access them in an easy-to-use format. Problem is that they charge more than you want to pay.

          More wrong. One organization put together the code. They make their money by selling the code to the trades that are forced to buy from their monopoly if they want to work. Forced to buy the law. Are you understanding this? Forced to buy the law. Not baseball statistics.

          Therefore, unless I'm reading you wrong, you're mad that you can't take their data and republish it. Since that's all that I can see is prohibited; you're still free to hassle that clerk until they cough up the codes and then publish THAT. In fact, the only way you can get in trouble is if you republish a lot of this data and can't prove you got it from anything else except the commercial database.

          Even more wrong.

          The only place you can get it is from buying their book, from the clerk (you can't take it out, you can't sit there and hand copy, you can't bring your own photocopy machine to the clerk's office) or from the library (sit there and copy, what by hand? Copy machine? Who's, yours? Theirs? How much paper/toner will they allow you? How much time?)

          And those are the three places, according to facts as came out in the court cases over the building codes case. Regardless of whether, and as it was listed in the case, you collected the code (LAWS) from buying the book, from the clerk, from the library, YOU STILL CAN'T PUBLISH YOUR OWN BOOK, OR ON THE INTERNET. WHETHER FOR PROFIT, OR NOT. The guy won the case, now the National Electrical organization, and joined by the Building Code organization are pushing this bill to overturn that case.

          So, while I can sympathize with your dilemna, you might direct your anger more towards the useless govt workers who aren't publishing the codes in a useful manner than the DB company that spent a lot of time trying to make them more usable (if more costly).

          As stated earlier, it isn't a government problem of not publishing codes in a useful manner. And it isn't a database company spending a lot of time trying to make them more usable. It is a private organization that is putting together, and publishing the codes (LAWS) themselves, and restricting anyone else from listing those codes (LAWS), and threatening/taking to court anyone who tries (the National Electrical Code Assocation was the case, the Building Codes association joined, and the National Fire Protection Association has threatened others).

          So get your facts straight.
    • by chezmarshall (694493) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:39PM (#7605969) Homepage

      What's wrong here is that it makes it easy for big corporations with deep pockets to keep the little guy from being a nuisance/competitor.

      Who can afford to litigate against a Fortune 500 company whether his database is or is not misappropriated from theirs? How can you ever establish that you independently generated your database?

      When ownership of fact can be the basis of a civil suit, the individual is shut out. Like software patents, the big corporations will own portfolios of databases that they will cross-license to each other while they collectively collude to keep everyone else out.

      When I see that the phone company and building-code associations are going out of business because bad guys have misappropriated their "databases," it may be time for such a law. Until then, what's the rush?

      I wish legislators would include at least a token discussion on exactly what the problem for which they're providing a "solution." Whose databases are currently being misappropriated?

      • what's wrong here (Score:4, Insightful)

        by scoove (71173) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:06AM (#7606189)
        it makes it easy for big corporations with deep pockets to keep the little guy from being a nuisance/competitor

        It's much more than that. Often, "big corporations" aren't the licensees of the data; smaller entities are (such as is the case in many state data distribution contracts, e.g. DMV databases which are auctioned off like radio spectrum in an irresponsible manner). Subsequently, the "evil big corporation" matter is a red herring. We need to keep the eye on the fundamental - the government's aspiration to implement a Stationer's register [bartleby.com] system that requires the authority of the crown in order to access public information. Imagine the absolute power politicians will have in defining who can and cannot see public records.

        Per the original post's critique link:

        H.R. 3261 ...would create a new federal property right in online and offline databases (collections of information), and give the federal courts power to police the use of information in databases.

        This is much more than a theft of public information (again, mirroring the FCC's approach to spectrum auctions). Much of this government information is necessary for ensuring compliance. Imagine, for instance, if driving laws were maintained in a Federal database, but access to that database required a $25,000 annual fee.

        Failure to have access to this database would result in recurring noncompliance; e.g. making normal citizens recurring lawbreakers.

        Certainly many politicians aspire to extend a political system that ensures all citizens are lawbreakers and subsequently dependents upon the system. Concealing public information which is necessary for legal compliance is a terrible move towards tyranny.

        H.R. 3261 would allow federal courts to impose stiff penalties if someone uses information from a database that a corporation claims to own.

        Almost sounds like it was written by Kafka:

        "I'm sorry sir, but to divulge what crime you have been charged with, absent proper licensing and permitting of your access to the Federal crimes database, would be a crime of itself. Certainly you wouldn't wish to compound matters, would you?"

        Incidentally, I see that Rep. Billy Tauzin [house.gov], known as the loyal Representative from BellSouth [newnetworks.com], is a cosponsor of this bill. Good rule of thumb: if Billy's involved, it's probably not on the level.

        *scoove*
      • There are quite a lot of online sites that are built by hobbyists who collect some sort of information. For example, there are many sites dedicated to old movies, old recordings, old books of various types, etc. Most of these are collected by the hobbyists via a lot of detective work.

        Does this mean that some big corporation can come along and claim that all of such a site's data is in their private corporate database, and is thus in violation? In most cases, the hobbyists will have had no access to the
      • by Dalcius (587481) <chrism3413+slashdot&gmail,com> on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @02:14AM (#7606839)
        "What's wrong here is that it makes it easy for big corporations with deep pockets to keep the little guy from being a nuisance/competitor.
        Who can afford to litigate against a Fortune 500 company whether his database is or is not misappropriated from theirs?"


        What follows is a general rant about "the system":

        Don't blame the law (unless you think it's wrong in and of itself, of course).
        Don't blame the lawyers, they're just mouthpeices: everyone (even the bad guys) needs a voice in a civil society.

        Blame the elected representatives who pass bad legislation which screws up the system.
        Blame the elected judges who hear ridiculous cases and who let bad legislation pass which screws up the system.
        Blame the citizens making up juries who make some of these stupid court decisions.

        See where this is going?

        Government (and economics, for that matter) is just a way of controlling power. No matter which party you belong to, it doesn't get any more basic than this.

        If you don't play the game, the folks who make the rules (your fellow citizens) will fuck you over. Democracy, capitalism, whatever -- NONE of it works if the people sit around and let a minority run the show.

        Personally, I'm of the opinion that less government is a good thing: I feel that sane courts and capitalism are more effective than legislature (I trust my vote more among 200,000 corporations than than I do 2,000 politicians). I think less government could solve problems like this, but it will never happen unless lots of folks like me vote.

        The same goes for you and what you believe. Welcome to the rest of your life. Put your hands on the wheel.
    • by Alsee (515537) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:13AM (#7606249) Homepage
      Welcome to my database of Elements:
      Hydrogen: Atomic weight 1.00794
      Helium: Atomic weight 4.002602
      Lithium: Atomic weight 6.941
      Beryllium: Atomic weight 9.012182
      Boron: Atomic weight 10.811
      Carbon: Atomic weight 12.0107
      Nitrogen: Atomic weight 14.0067
      Oxygen: Atomic weight 15.9994

      I spent nearly an hour researching sources for all one hundred and thirteen items in that database! Do you know it took me almost eight minutes to find a source for the atomic weight for Darmstadtium alone? Element 110, Darmstadtium, atomic weight 281!

      I invested TIME and WORK into building my database! I'm trying to SELL these facts! I have a RIGHT to make money selling these facts! Now, with this law I can finally sue anyone who tries to infringe my god-given right to make a profit! These are MY facts! I OWN them! Anyone who copies these facts is a THIEF! That's right! Bob over there STOLE the FACT that Oxygen has an atomic weight of 15.9994! He STOLE it from me!

      And don't you dare try to STEAL the speed of light out of my database! I own that too, and I'm damn well going to make money selling it!

      [/sarcasm]

      Note that the mere fact that I attempt to sell this info automatically qualifies it as a "commercial database". I could have a database with the facts that 'M' is the 13th letter of the alphabet and 'N' is the 14th letter. That's a "commercial database" too, if I say it is.

      The Supreme Court ruled that you cannot copyright facts, and with damn good reason. Congress is forbidden from granting copyright protection to databases of facts so they are making an end-run around the Supreme Court. They are inventing some new "right" out of thin air. A right to own facts. It's a dumb idea. You cannot "own" the speed of light. You cannot "own" the height of Mt. Everest. You cannot "own" the fact that Bob Miller lives at 8192 Binary Lane. You cannot "own" the fact that Bob Miller is 5-foot-4. You cannot "own" the fact that Bob Miller's phone number is (429)496-7296.

      That last item - Bob Miller's phone number - is particularly signifigant. This whole issue started with a battle over the PHONE BOOK. The Supreme court ruled that the listings of people's phone numbers in the phone book can't be protected and can't be owned by the company publishing the phone book. This new law is an attempt to "fix" that problem. It grants the phone book publisher ownership over the fact that Bob Miller's phone number is (429)496-7296.

      As for the exemptions you list, yeah, the law would devestating with out them. But it's not about what is permitted, it's about what is prohibited. The law prohibits the "misappropriation of facts". You can't "misappropriate" a fact.

      -
    • I happen to agree with this guy to some extent. This law, contrary to what my fellow /.'ers seem to think, is not about the content of the database at all - it is simply about the database. I think the interpretation is you can't use the database as a free source of information and then resell the same information. It doesn't seem to say anything about using the information in other proudcts, et cetera.

      Granted, I agree that laws should be written to be far less vague (as this one does indeed leave a lot of

  • by Anonymous Coward
    You just know it'll pass.
  • by Parsa (525963) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:59PM (#7605709) Homepage
    Kinda anyway.

    I wanted to copyright my demographic information then charge company's to use it to send me junkmail. Now someone else is goign to own my info. I wonder if they would sell me, or license me, the right to use my info.

    J
  • by sysopd (617656) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:00PM (#7605715)
    Sec 6 (c) Nothing in this Act shall [...] restrict any person from making available in commerce or extracting subscriber list information [...]

    Yea! Thank God they thought of the poor telemarketers!

  • The megacorps can try and legally grab all the "IP realestate" they want, but in the end it's the people that have to respect that "ownership" for it to be recognized. The balance between the benefit of the private few and the public good has been way out of whack for way too long, and claiming ownership of simple facts is yet another backwards step!

    Information wants to be free, but there's still big bucks to be made from plundering the commons and attempting to enforce more artificial scarcity.

    --

    • Which megacorps pushed for this bill?

      Your post is nothing but pure speculation.

  • Crazy idea - /. incorporates, with all current users listed as directors, and all our personal info goes in a giant DB. Now, when any other corp. uses our name/address/telephone no./email/DOB/hair color/eye color/etc, we can just sue the living daylights out of them! Or maybe incorporate with your family, or your roommates, or whatever...the sky's the limit! Screw the DNC list, you can get TRIPLE damages for those annoying telemarketing calls...and just IMAGINE what we can do to spammers!
  • If facts currently can't be copyrighted then does this mean that a GPL like license for data also can not exist, such as the opencontent [opencontent.org] license?

    A previous article [slashdot.org] about how maptech obtains their map data prompted a reader [slashdot.org] to propose an opensource type map data clearing house with the data being submitted by volunteers. I am working on trying to create just such a thing and I am looking for some kind of protection for the data to keep what happened to CDDB by Gracenote [gracenote.com] from happening to it.

    Now it sound

  • Okay here's the RIAA/MPAA Spin on it. Take i360, have them harvest p2p users and IP addresses and viola - something that's Excluded! [loc.gov]-
    (B) EXCLUSIONS- The term database does not include any of the following:
    (i) A work of authorship, other than a compilation or a collective work.
    (ii) A collection of information that principally performs the function of addressing, routing, forwarding, transmitting, or storing digital online communications or receiving access to connections for digital communications, except t
  • by belmolis (702863) <billposer@alum. m i t .edu> on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:15PM (#7605811) Homepage

    While I am still concerned to some extent about this bill, as I read it the situation is not nearly as dire as the posting suggests. To begin with, the claim that the bill

    ...allows treble damages to be levied against anyone who uses information that's in a database that a corporation asserts it owns.

    is untrue. It imposes no liability on users of a database. It deals only with people who

    ...make[s] available in commerce to others a quantitatively substantial part of the information in a database...

    Unless I have missed something, you can make use of any data you can get your hands on. What you can't do is distribute to others the whole database or substantial chunks of it. Furthermore, the owner of the database can't just claim to own it; it has the burden of showing that it generated the database through a substantial investment of money or time.

    The bill is fairly restrictive. It exempts government databases, explicitly permits hyperlinking, and contains exceptions for news reporting and educational and research uses. Furthermore, the restriction only applies if the unauthorized redistribution "inflicts an injury", where this is defined as follows:

    For purposes of subsection (a), the term `inflicts an injury' means serving as a functional equivalent in the same market as the database...

    I'm not sure how this is to be interpreted, but it seems to me that it may permit derivative works insofar as they are not functionally equivalent to the original. In sum, I'm nervous about restrictions on databases too, but this bill seems to be pretty narrow. Its possible it prohibits things I wouldn't want to see prohibited, but it doesn't seem to be nearly as awful as suggested. I'd like to see a proper analysis of the intent and legal interpretation of this bill.

    • by 4/3PI*R^3 (102276) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:58PM (#7606118)
      Yes it is bad.

      For the first example consider public records. Yes another database provider may manually reconstruct the entire set of public records each government entitiy creates. What happens when the government entity then enters into contract with the database provider to submit an electronic dataset. For example check out MuniCode [municode.com]. I could go down to my local city hall and get an entire copy of the municipal codes and manually type them and post them. However, this places me at a severe disadvantage over MuniCode. In fact this bill could prevent government agencies from selling electronic data submissions to multiple vendors since once the first vendor receives the data he may claim copyright on the collection and sue the government agency.

      For the second example, consider telephone directories. The local telephone provider has a nice monopoly on this data since they are the creator and maintainer of the data. Once they publish the "phone book" it becomes a database. The only way another company can compete to produce directories would be to manually contact each home, business, etc. and collect the information from them. It would be illegal to simply copy the text of the phone book, rearrange it and publish with added value. BTW, check the link in the editorial linked to in the /. story post -- this happened!!! With this law it would be illegal!!!
  • by cspenn (689387)
    Here's an idea - why not incorporate yourself? Filing fees aren't that terrible - at least not if you file in the state of Delaware - and then you can enjoy all the rights and privileges of fellow corporations like Enron, Worldcom, and SCO! File abhorrently incorrect taxes! "Restate" your earnings to the IRS!

    In all seriousness... if you're not a corporation or affiliated with one, you might be in a bit of trouble as the current pro-business administration continues its legislative agendae.

    Chris Inc. [slconsolidation.com]
  • Bills get introduced all the time to do all kinds of shit. Every session of Congress, for example, some idiot introduces a bill to repeal the Second Amendment. Some other schmuck introduces one to repeal the 22nd Amendment. Neither of then go anywhere, neither will this one.

    Of course, we'll see 3-4 dupes of this on /. before it's all over . . .

    • Exactly, this happens every session. This is why it's so dangerous. Fortunately every past attempt has failed. However, no matter how many times some moronic bill like this fails, the PTB only need to get this to pass once.

      When was the last time Congress actually repealled a law? If this bad bill becomes a bad law, the only way to get rid of it will be through a court challenge? Who will spend thousands of dollars to fight for the right to copy factual databases?

      Political activism is free! Judicial
  • "Corporation"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:24PM (#7605879) Homepage
    > ...against anyone who uses information that's in
    > a database that a corporation asserts it owns.

    This legislation is certainly objectionable, but nothing in it singles out corporations.
  • " This is an issue that crosses the political spectrum. Left-leaning organizations like the American Library Association oppose the bill and so do arch-conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly, who wrote an impassioned column exposing the bill for what it is the week after it was introduced.""

    then it will die...however, the authors had to know this,, so what they really want will be in a 'rewrite' of the bill.
    • Re:well then... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by demachina (71715)
      The same thing was said about the Medicare bill that just passed. The right wing hated it because it is a hugely expensive social program being funded out of deficit spending. The left wing hated it because the prescription drug benefit it was supposed to be all about is piss poor, it outlawed importing drugs from Canada, outlawed Medicare from negotiating fairer prices for drugs like the VA already does, which ensures windfall profits for drug companies, gave huge subsidies to health care coporations, cr
  • by phorm (591458) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:43PM (#7605989) Journal
    This is where I wonder what could be covered by this act. Maybe if it were only concerned with databases containing, say, financial or such information it wouldn't be so bad, but how about if a company is archiving most or even all of its internal communication?

    Sounds to me like the leaked diebold memos would have been a great chance for a smackdown lawsuit in this case...

    Even better, how about if you are emailing something to yourself at home, maybe on a break. Even if your company didn't contractually claim exclusive rights to anything coming out of your head, if it was archived from corporate email then wouldn't this give them rights to it?

    Just throwing around some basic doom+gloom, I'm sure the professionals (corporations) would be able to come around with some more advanced methods of screwing us over...
  • by OldSoldier (168889) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:46PM (#7606018)
    I read most of the bill and Phyllis Schlafly's article. I'm scared by her example of Veeck vs SBCCI, but then again I was heartened to read this passage from the bill.

    (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.

    By way of example suppose...
    CASE 1
    The phone company in my town prints its DB of customers and phone numbers and sells that book. I buy a copy of that book and take it to kinkos and give it away for free. Should I be punished?

    CASE 2
    Same town and phone company, but this time I go to every person in my small town and ask what their phone number is, collect that info into my own book and give that book away... "INDEPENDENTLY GATHERED INFORMATION" Seems like I'm in the clear.

    On the surface I'm OK with this, but at least one problem is that the book from case 1 may be indistinguishable from the book in case 2. Will burden of proof lie with me or them?
  • by bersl2 (689221) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:46PM (#7606019) Journal
    In other words, who owns "*BSD is dying!"?
  • Get a grip, people (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RealProgrammer (723725) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:53PM (#7606072) Homepage Journal

    IANAL, but this law looks OK.

    It looks, on its face, to be carefully crafted to keep people from taking large chunks of other people's databases and selling them as their own.

    In effect, it gives copyright-like protection to formatting information into a database. It's the format, and the particular collection of the data that is owned, not the information itself.

    You must to yield now. We have own all your databases.

  • basically (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ShadowRage (678728) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:54AM (#7606496) Homepage Journal
    a fortune500 can steal your data.. republish it.. then scream it's theirs and you stole it.. and you can get in trouble, and there's no way in hell you're gonna be ale to scream it's them, becuase
    a) they have money
    b) they have money to get the best lawyers
    c) they have money to drag a case on until you're broke.

    that's another scary thought.
  • by John Leeming (160817) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @03:31AM (#7607120)
    I worked for a web firm that was hit with a threatened lawsuit for "copyright infringement", and did the legal research for my boss that included a guerilla study of the FEIST v RURAL decision about eight years ago...

    I don't think many of the comments truly understand just how much information is on a typical web site, both on the page and in the server, that would be subject to a reversal of FEIST.

    In our case, to give an idea, we presented a "how to" for homeowners on repairing common appliances and when to call the professionals.

    Consider this...there are only so many ways that you can say: "Replace the worn part."

    That's what we were threatened over; C&D letters and responses flying around, and out of the midst of this, researching for an attorney on our side, I ran across FEIST and Shepardized it out.

    We ran with it, pointing out the case, reinforcing the decision, and having the weight of a unanimous Supreme Court decision behind it.

    We won. The other guys backed down. We passed the word to a few other web sites being similarly threatened, and the attornies ran like vampires in sunlight.

    But this _simple_ of an example, where a common and expected phrase becomes part of a "database", shows how HR 3261 can be applied to us all if it should pass.

    This bill needs to be stopped...not just for the threat to the internet, but to basic research, to common students trying to do term papers, to authors trying to write, to even repeating breaking news from a web site or the TV.

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