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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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  • His true calling? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:39PM (#7605556)
    "arch-conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly"

    Sound's like MC Frontalot's little brother.
  • 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) * <mimenarrator@g m a i l .com> on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:41PM (#7605567) Journal
    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.
  • Re:In that case (Score:3, Insightful)

    by boobsea (728173) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:45PM (#7605602) Journal
    The OP said that if Linux devs can get code to be judically consdidered as a "mere collection of facts" then they can use that to nullify SCO's code copying claim.

    Conversely, some company can come in and take your source, change it, use it in a commercial product and use this doctorine to justify not releasing the code.

    Be careful what you wish for (to OP).
  • by SharpFang (651121) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:47PM (#7605614) Homepage Journal
    ...in times of "communism", there was far more freedom than it gets to be in the US. It's sad that a country that boasts to be the most 'free' in the world, slowly becomes another empire of evil, democracy no longer fulfilling its purpose, law in hands of corporations, money being the highest value, crime and violence becoming leading powers driving the economy.
    It's just sad.
  • Re:In that case (Score:2, Insightful)

    by boobsea (728173) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:47PM (#7605615) Journal
    As an addendum to my previous post, if you are OK with someone taking your code, making changes, and using that in their product sold commercialy, why didn't you use the BSD license in the first place?
  • 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 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?

  • Re:Sigh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DShard (159067) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:50PM (#7605640)
    No, information is not universal. Information is contributed by individuals whether paid for by corporations, or devised through his/her own means.

    The free-market system depends on scarcity of information. You cannot profit from something that everyone has a right to. FreeSoftware companies are not an example of this. They profit from service (i.e. a collection of information services provided by said company to an customer.) or proprietary innovation (MS is an example of expanding public information).

    Without resources you interests have no value to society in this context. The correlary is that only things that interest society get the most attention. That is why counting cow farts can only get supported by the government.
  • Re:Question.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shivianzealot (621339) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:53PM (#7605661)

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

    Why worry about it? If you feel strongly enough about this, and want to illustrate your point, incorporation is well within the means of the "private individual."

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Re:Question.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sysopd (617656) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:56PM (#7605687)
    If you can prove...

    (1) the database was generated, gathered, or maintained through a substantial expenditure of financial resources or time;

    ...then you might have a case. This is meant to protect big business.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:59PM (#7605710)
    One reason Marxism came to be popular in the 19th century was that, particularly in Europe, most individuals were stripped of the means to own things. Marx point was this rapidly reduced society into two classes, one that was actually lower than the serf or slave, and a much smaller one that was wealthier than even the old aristocracy ever had been. While I dont nessisarly agree with his proposed solutions, I see similar parellels between the power of corporations today to own and use and the ability to restrict ever more individuals from the ability or means of ownership or use, whether it is ideas or physical things (yes, eula-like licenses are being used by some on commercial sale of physical goods already).

  • by goodie3shoes (573521) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:03PM (#7605741)
    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.
  • 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 Dynamic Ranger (725268) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:22PM (#7605869)
    ...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.
  • "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.
  • 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 Meridun (120516) * on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:30PM (#7605913) Homepage
    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 an easy-to-use format. Problem is that they charge more than you want to pay.

    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.

    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).
  • 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?

  • 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...
  • Re:Google (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 4/3PI*R^3 (102276) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:44PM (#7606003)
    WRONG!!

    This bill does not give ownership of the data to the database maintainer. It simply gives copyright protetion to the collective work.

    Google could not clain ownership of any data on the Internet (other than its own). Google could claim copyright of the index and search results.

    What Google could do is DMCA sites for posting Google link results. However, posting a URL to Google to get the same link results is explicitly permitted in the legislation.

  • 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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!!!
  • 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*
  • Re:Sigh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schon (31600) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:13AM (#7606252)
    The free-market system depends on scarcity of information.

    No, it doesn't.

    The free-market system depends on scarcity of material.

    That material may be 'intellectual property', or it may be physical goods.

    It's perfetcly possible to have a free market without scarcity of information.
  • 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 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.
  • Re:well then... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by demachina (71715) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:34AM (#7606378)
    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, created tax free shelters for the wealthy and it starts trial programs to privatize Medicare.

    Didn't matter that both sides of the political specturm hated it. As soon as the drug companies, HMO's and insurance companies started spreading campaign contributions around and sent in an army of lobbiest they bought a slim majority in the house and big majority in the Senate, enough to block a fillibuster.

    Passing laws in the U.S. is very rarely about doing anything in the public interest any more. Laws are usually bought and paid for by lobbyists, and under the Republicans these are usually corporate lobbyists whose goal is to further increase the wealth of the wealthy. For the Democrats they tend to be things like unions, environmental groups etc. Unfortunately for the Democrats all of their special interest groups have started to suck in the face of the wealth and power of corporate lobbyists and the wealthy.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:44AM (#7606443) Homepage Journal
    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 corporate database, and likely won't even know that it exists. But in such cases, the data will almost certainly be very similar, because we're dealing with published historical data.

    Note that this is the same sort of problem that SCO is bringing out. They claim that linux contains infringements of their private, secret code. Nobody is allowed access to their code, so it's impossible to avoid sometimes duplicating it. But they are successfully causing others to defend against infringement suits, which will be tremendously expensive (e.g. in lost sales) for the defendants even if they win.

    How could I ever defend myself against the charge of infringing the data in a corporate database, when I have no access to it? This sort of suit would probably bankrupt me in one or two months.

    Is my only option to never publish anything at all, until the time that I become a billionaire with the funds to defend myself?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:48AM (#7606463)
    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.
    However, you would have no way of getting access to the source code if a company didn't release it. You couldn't get it even if 90% of it was PD software + their changes.

    Sure copy the binary to your heart's content, but you pay for the upgrade, or the annual key for the binary licencing system (which as it's not software still is covered by copyright), etc...

    Somewhat unrelated, but that 10% proprietary would still be covered by trade secret law too, so you would possibly be in a worse position than with the GPL.

    You would need to have mandatory full disclosure of source laws to have an equivalent situation to the GPL now.
  • 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 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 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 ThosLives (686517) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @08:45AM (#7607908) Journal
    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 room - "to be decided by the courts" and such). They should have to be written so they are *cough* specific and measurable. But that's a side argument.

    I guess the point of all this is, if you don't like the way laws are written, become a politician. If you don't like the way they're enforced, become a lawyer. You could also always build, from the ground up, a new worldwide network that isn't the Internet and so would be exempt from all the laws applying to the Internet...

    <cynical>
    My Database of Math: I now own everything!
    0+n = n
    1*n = n
    </cynical>

  • Re:Sigh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gnu-generation-one (717590) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @09:22AM (#7608075) Homepage
    "It's perfetcly possible to have a free market without scarcity of information."

    Indeed it's required...

    If price, quality, and history information isn't perfectly and universally available, it's not a free market.

    So for example, trying to prevent the publishing of a shop's price list is an attempt to destroy a free market. People don't know enough to make a perfect choice, so the best supplier doesn't necessarily make the sales.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:24AM (#7608802)
    But that's not so bad. The CORE PROBLEM is people confusing "all copies of some data" with "one copy of some data". Data simply does not act like physical matter - If a corporation has a database, and I take a COPY of that database, the corporation still has its copy. But if the corporation has a legal right to restrict the dissemination of COPIES of information, that means people cannot keep track of what the hell they are up to without facing constant legal intimidation. Not good.

    Information is not property. A copy of some information should be property. But other copies should NOT be the same property.

  • Re:Question.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by schlick (73861) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @12:50PM (#7609666)
    Well there is one problem with the phone number thing. The phone company doesn't have to sell you service unless you agree to their terms, and if their terms state that they can publish your number then thats that.

    BUT other information like your home address or in many cases your email address is, what I believe, your proprietary information. If some company (spam or whatever) includes your address in something they sell and they have not licensed it then they are stealing from you. If "company a" sells your info to "company b" then "company a" is effectively preventing you from selling that info to "company b" thus actually stealing your property. Also when a company legally obtains your information buy doing business with you, (for instance Amazon.com gets my info because I buy something) there is an implication there that you are providing them with your information for a specific purpose, namely that transaction. If I buy software then sell it over and over I'm breaking the law. If amazon.com gets my info and then sells it over and over their stock goes up. We should take back our personal information.

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