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Censorship Data Storage United States Your Rights Online

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

    by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:42PM (#7605571) Homepage Journal
    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 maintained through a substantial expenditure of financial resources or time;

    (2) the unauthorized making available in commerce occurs in a time sensitive manner and inflicts injury on the database or a product or service offering access to multiple databases; and

    (3) the ability of other parties to free ride on the efforts of the plaintiff would so reduce the incentive to produce the product or service that its existence or quality would be substantially threatened.

    (b) INJURY- For purposes of subsection (a), the term `inflicts an injury' means serving as a functional equivalent in the same market as the database in a manner that causes the displacement, or the disruption of the sources, of sales, licenses, advertising, or other revenue.

    (c) TIME SENSITIVE- In determining whether an unauthorized making available in commerce occurs in a time sensitive manner, the court shall consider the temporal value of the information in the database, within the context of the industry sector involved.
  • 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.
  • Loophole (Score:2, Informative)

    by sysopd (617656) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:53PM (#7605665)
    (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

  • 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.
  • From Permitted Acts (Score:2, Informative)

    by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:58PM (#7605703) Homepage Journal
    (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.
  • 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 sysopd (617656) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:12PM (#7605795)
    Most laws are limited to triple damages. (In Timothy's defense, Slashdot topic misspellings are at an all time low.)

    Check the dictionary sometime, treble is a synonym for triple. Also, look at the law-specific lingo [cornell.edu].

  • by caveat (26803) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:29PM (#7605905)
    treble - adj.
    1. Triple: "treble reason for loving as well as working while it is day" (George Eliot).
    2. Music. Relating to or having the highest part, voice, or range.
    3. High-pitched; shrill.

    Good god boy, one would almost think you ain't never been fishing! (If you actually haven't...well, I truly pity you. But anyway, a triple-hooked fishook is called a "treble hook".)
  • Sports... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:35AM (#7606388)
    This is a little like the Football Association in England. I am not sure if it's still the situation, but they wanted to charge licencing fees from anyone who published their fixture lists.

    They couldn't copyright facts, but printed it in a certain format, and copyright that, and "force/encourage/whatever" people to use that format and pay the fee, or face legal action.

    Media outlets go along with the plan, and everyone else of course backs down in the face of the threat of legal action.
  • by demachina (71715) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @01:06AM (#7606558)
    Perhaps you would care to actually make your case as to what was wrong in what I said instead of just saying it was BS. I'm always open to learn from my mistakes, but telling someone they are full of shit but not actually saying in what way is about the weakest form of debate you could engage in. Well its not even really debate.

    The sneak and peak search provision of the Patriot Act is widely regarded as one of its most detestable parts and will be the first thing called in to question if Congress ever gets around to revisiting the Patriot Act, something I doubt they will find the backbone to do anytime soon.

    Did you actually read the link in my post to the University of Georgia. I'll quote since you must not have read it before you started ranting:

    Section 213 of the USA Patriot Act not only specifically grants the federal judiciary power to issue sneak and peek warrants, but also, by allowing their use for every federal crime and by placing no meaningful limits on their issuance, encourages their issuance. It may be expected that as time passes the use of such warrants will become the rule rather than the exception in federal court, and that when a conventional search warrant is issued it will almost always have been preceded by a sneak and peek warrant. ...
    Nearly two decades ago a prescient federal judge, in a dissenting opinion, warned that sneak and peek search warrants "constitute ... a dangerous and radical threat to civil rights and to the security of all our homes and persons."16 Echoing this sentiment, a law review note published three years later emphasized that sneak and peek search warrants "bestow on law enforcement agents unlimited license to rifle through a person's private residence without the owner's knowledge or consent. There is no check on agents' actions to ensure they comply"17 with protections for individual rights, and "the risk of abuse and the subsequent intrusion into privacy is ... severe."18
  • 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.

  • by rokka (631038) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @04:49AM (#7607324)
    In Sweden, most people don't pay taxes
    You made this up yourself? The only ones who don't pay taxes in Sweden are students (if you don't count the 25% VAT).

    the bottom bracket pays 0%, and the upper bracket, which begins at 10% above the mean wage earned amounts to a tax of 57%
    Totaly wrong. Just isnt so.

    with ultra-low unemployment,
    Yeah, only like 7-8% or so.

    inflation,
    OK, you had a lucky guess....

    national debt,
    but just one :)

    I don't hate the country I live in... but trust me, it ain't heaven. A lot of your "facts" was true during the 70'-80'. High standards and low unemployment was kept by huge national debt. and many people where employed by the goverment. This ended with a minor krash in the begining of the 90'. Now it's more or less like any othe country in the EU.
  • by danro (544913) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @05:33AM (#7607435) Homepage
    I'm swedish, and I like living here, but get your facts straight!
    Living here is good, that is true, but it is not the utopia you make it out to be.

    You are describing Sweden in the 70's, not in the 00's. (Being completely intact after WWII gave us a good head start...)
    After a slight crisis in the 90's national debt is up, unemployment is up a bit, and we are over all more on par with other western european countries.
  • Re:Question.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by waegelein (551014) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @07:03AM (#7607639)

    In Europe there are few cases ongoing, where a company Fixtures Marketing (who decides when and where the football (soccer) games are played) wants money from gambling comapnies because they are using the publicly available information about the games.

    The Hogsta Domstolen seeks a preliminary ruling on the following questions:

    1. In assessing whether a database is the result of a "substantial investment" within the meaning of Article 7(1) of Council Directive 96/9/EC of 11 march 1996 on the legal protection of databases (the "database directive") can the maker of a database be credited with an investment primarily intended to create something which is independent of the database and which thus does not merely concern the "obtaining, verification or presentation" of the contents of the database? If so, does it make any difference if the investment or part of it nevertheless constitutes a prerequisite for the database?

    AB Svenska Spel contends in this case that Fixtures Marketing Limited's investment is primarily concerned with the drawing up of the fixture lists for the English and Scottish football leagues and not with the databases where the data are stored. Fixtures marketing Limited, for its part, argues that it is not possible to distinguish the work for the purpose of planning the game and that the purpose of drawing up the fixture lists.

    The rest of the story... [patent.gov.uk]

  • by GreyWolf3000 (468618) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @07:38PM (#7613602) Journal
    That's not true. Damages could be "levied" to someone trying to use information stored in a corporate database. The idea that they "own" the data is false, but they do own the database; hence, you can't use information illegaly gathered from their database. If you aquire the data elsewhere and by legal means, you are perfectly within your rights to use it as you wish. If the corp. actually owned the data, then you could not use data that exist in a corp. database but is aquired elsewhere.

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