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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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  • 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.
  • Sigh... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by i_am_syco (694486) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:38PM (#7605539)
    Don't corporations own enough without owning random bits on some LaCie hard drive somewhere? Information is universal and it should be free. End of story.
  • 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?

  • 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!

  • Re:Question.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s20451 (410424) on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:48PM (#7605620) Journal
    In particular, what if I copyright all facts concerning myself and refuse to grant any company a license? Surely no entity could have a better claim to their "authorship". Say hello to free unlisted telephone numbers.
  • 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.
  • Re:Question.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday December 01, 2003 @10:59PM (#7605711) Homepage Journal
    I've spent all my life generating, gathering, and/or maintaining every fact about it; it has taken all my money, and all my time.
  • by GoofyBoy (44399) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:03PM (#7605740) Journal
    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?
  • Re:What's onerous? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:09PM (#7605779)
    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 collection of data would have restrictions similar to those of copyright, but without any protections for the general public such as fair use, and without a strict time limit. This law seems to protect a data set as long as releasing the data would harm the companies business model - in other words, it is yet another "Bad Business Model Protection Act", just like the DMCA and the Broadcast Flag.

    The most important question to ask for any law is:
    "Will this benefit the general public?"
    If the answer is no (which it is for this law, since large data sets are already produced without such restrictions in place), then the law should not be passed. Unfortunately, Congress will ask one of three completely different questions, depending on if the congresscritter in question is corrupt, gullible, or simply moronic:
    "Will this benefit those who pay me?" (corrupt)
    "Is this what the nice lobbyist told me was a good idea?" (gullible)
    "Will this benefit big corporations, and therefore benefit the general public?" (moronic)
  • 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 beacher (82033) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:26PM (#7605888) Homepage
    Okay now here's a riddle - Let's say that Microsoft comes out with Longhorn and WinFS [com.com]. My files are now in a database. Can they take even the smallest form of data out (ie a subset as per the definitions) without violating this law? Neat
  • by SharpFang (651121) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:44PM (#7606000) Homepage Journal
    Ok. So piece of freedom in Poland.

    Except of really absolutely necessary laws, the only limitation was: Don't fight the system. At least, not from outside. Which means: You could join the party, climb the career ladder and once gaining significant power, help guiding the system towards something more 'accessible'. And that was often done. They stopped condemning rock music, instead they pursued engaging it on their side (see the Manaam band), they had to ballance giving as much freedom to people against becoming "too liberal" in eyes of Moscow, especially giving real show in "fighting the enemies of the system" - the oppression of the opposition news were often bloated purposedly, just to show "how faithful we are". The police was really effective, and while you had to carry your ID with yourself at all times and show it to the police on demand (often), nobody really minded that - "Thank you citizen, you are free" was what you always heard if you weren't a criminal.
    What is really important, the laws were extremely liberal. Nobody even thought about banning homosexuality. Marriages? No, not really, but prison? What for? Real law. Pornography allowed 18+, sex - 16+. No fiction of "sex since 18, alcohol since 21". Soft drugs allowed in small amounts for personal use. Hard drugs illegal and mostly unknown. Besides, the youth had far more interesting stuff to do than to drug themselves, start gang wars, rob people. Ever heard about The Palace of Culture and Science, by name of Stalin? A big building in the centre of Warsaw, impressive for its times. A network of such institutions worked thorough the whole country. Purpose: clubs, for mostly every hobby you could ever think of. Computer labs, car models, plane models, chorus, radioelectronics, carpentry, aquariums, all kinds of sport sections, games, theatre, dance, a section for any good activity you could think of for your child, could be found there - and children loved it. Funded in great part by the state, well equipped workshops, decent instructors/trainers, place for every kid and teenager to spend their time in interesting and creative way.
    And criminals were really looked down upon, because people knew these do what they do just because they are too lazy for a honest job. Not to get their bread. Because despite the fact I could eat bananas maybe once or twice a year, when they appeared at the shop, everyone could afford their living, food, nobody was homeless, nobody was without work. If you happened to be without work while able to work, you were quite suspect. So called Blue Bird (polish Niebieski Ptak, russian Sinaya Ptica), either you lived from some money your family abroad sent you, or you performed some illegal activity... unless you just asked the social support for help. It was substantial enough to provide living to anyone too lazy to work, not high-standard though. Besides, it paid to work really. Forget the money, they didn't mean really much. But privledges. Vacations in your firm's contracted or owned hotel (Black Sea? Yugoslavia? Romania?), discounts on multitude of services, "christmas gifts", coupons to buy poorly available goods, countless other profits other than financial. You didn't HAVE TO work. You were just pretty much encouraged to do so.
    And one wonderful thing I miss really deeply: Honesty and trust. You could travel whole eastern europe by hitchikng. You could leave your tent out in the wild for whole days without fear somebody would steal anything. You could ask a perfect stranger in the country to let you sleep overnight at their place and they would greet you warmly. Of course the unwritten rule of "do not steal" applied only to private property. Public property was stolen at will, and that's one of several reasons why the system collapsed. And if you were an artist, writer or such, you just belonged to an association which would pay you a monthly salary for writing books, playing music etc, and then provided them to the public for funny money. A record (vinyl) for as much as a loaf of bread. A book for about the same.
  • by argoff (142580) on Monday December 01, 2003 @11:57PM (#7606107)
    A few years ago I did alot of research about countries all over the world - and came to the conclusion that the US is still the best when it comes to freedoms other than maybe Switzerland and Finland. As much as I hate the taxes, regulations, war of privacy^H^H^H^H^H^H oops I mean terror and other restrictions here ... believe it or not in most other places it is actually worse.

    While many countries have strengths in a few areas, overall the US is still the strongest. For example, Hong Kong has some of the best free markets anywhere, but being part of China it is not a good option. Other countries have great tax opportunities, like Belize, but the US came down hard on them with it's mighty economic and political strength - and that was that. Believe it or not, if you're NOT a US citizen, the USA can even be a massive tax haven.

    Anyhow, after lots of study I came to some conclusions. All the great frontieers, xcept for perhaps the ocean and antartica, (space... other planets...) are taken. The US is really the last frontier of freedom, and the next frontieer is most likely not to be a political landscape, but rather a technological one. For example, use encryption, freenet, and p2p technologies on the internet to secure your right to copy until the enemies pitter out. (which they will, because things that thrive by taking away freedom are never long term tenable)

    By doing it this way, especially in the US, you can take advantage of the fact that political/economic forces already in place will make it impossible for them to shut down the internet, but will also make it just as impossible to enforce copying restrictions. Some countries like China might go so desperate as to pop a bullet in the head of anybody who views unauthorized data without trial, but once again political realities in the US more or less make that impossible. In a way, we have the government check-mated.
  • 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.

  • 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.

    -
  • 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 fingusernames (695699) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @01:22AM (#7606622) Homepage
    The section heading is "Nonseverability." What 10(a) means is that if within ten years the Supreme Court holds section 3 void, then the ENTIRE act is repealed, not merely the portion the Supremes find unconstitutional.

    10(b) means that after ten years, then the Supremes get to decide piece by piece whether the act is legal.

    Also, keep in mind that when the Supremes rule a law unconstitutional, that doesn't mean it became unconstitutional from the date of the ruling. It means that the law was *never* a valid law. From day one. So, Congress inserts things into laws to try to accomodate that possibility. Though the purpose of this particular section appears to be an appeasement to 1st amendment concerns. Very interesting language.

    Larry
  • by dbuttric (9027) <(dbuttrick) (at) (geekforce.com)> on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @01:40AM (#7606702) Homepage
    I've read the bill, and I agree with those that dont see the harm here. It seems to me that what this bill is trying to protect is the investment in the collection, storage and maintenance of data.

    The fact that some database contains my home address is not related to the fact that my home address is correct in that database. I guess what I'm saying is that my address never will be a primary key for whatever. It is not an absolute. But it is a fact. The owner of that data does not own that fact, they just own a character string. They cannot claim to own my address. If they do, I can easily move.

    The fact is that every Atom has an atomic weight. That is a fact. Do we know those atomic weights with any great precision? No - we can make approximations. But we dont have those facts. So, noone can own them.

    The fact is that most people have a home address, but just because I think I know what it is at a given moment does not make it a fact, and publishing that information in a database does not mean that I own it.

    I guess I just dont get how this is a question of who owns the facts.

    Someday, after the grand unification theory has been discovered, invented, whatever you want to call it - I bet someone will try to publish a database of real, actual facts - immutable properties of the universe. They may try to claim ownership of them. I hope they get the shit knocked out of them when they try.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @02:04AM (#7606797)
    Hope your trip went well :-).

    A few updates...

    While you were gone, the US pretty much renounced their Constitution - in the entirety. Some of it was this air attack on 9/11, the day the Terrorists won a war that hardly even was. History will probably record it as the shortest and cheapest victory in the history of Superpower defeats. Anyway, the mere idea of privacy is actively disparaged now and every means of search, seizure, and detainment is pretty much legal, without a great deal of judicial oversight.

    Then Disney was about to lose rights to The Mouse and some 15 year old so happened to "steal" a song electronically, and they used that to kill off another big chunk. That wasn't enough, tho, so the Corporations are bringing out full-on "DRM" so Congress need not further abuse The People by blatently overstepping their authority and ignoring every intent. And we thought Corporations were insensitive.

    Anyway, we thought our election rules were still clear enough, but the Supreme Court trompled that to death too. Probably just as a matter of functional completeness. You know judges, they're born closure freaks.

    Just thought you should know.

    On the religion thing, they've pretty much been denying homosexuals equal protections under the law becuase they're, um, "abominations under God" Last I checked, "God", and his "abominations", would be a religion thing. The 10 Commandments are still banned from public display, but we're thinking it's becuase they don't like the "rules" more than them having much to do with "God".

    On the speech thing, money is the new definition of speech. Relatively speaking, 99% of Amerians are now officially mute. Well, not technically, but comparatively speaking, the volume control for most is set a few billion dB to the low side. If you care to vote otherwise, fine, the machines are run by Dibold and, well, subject to, um, "upgrades" in real time.

    On the patent and copyright things, the Supreme court says it's up to Congress to define what "limited" means. Oh, and what "promote" means. Yea, and "useful" too. So, pretty much, we figure Congress is free to define all the various words in the Constitution to mean whatever they want them to mean, as needed at the time. Unless, of course, it conflicts with the Court's politics that hour.

  • by js7a (579872) * <james AT bovik DOT org> on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @02:33AM (#7606901) Homepage Journal
    it wasn't freedom that people fought for. It was the shiny shop shelves bending under weight of wares, it was fast cars, big luxury houses that most of the people who fought thought they would have. Their mistake as to the character of capitalism appeared shortly after, and homeless, redundant, criminals came as a shock. Nobody who came from the US with a bag of dollars ever mentioned them. Nobody mentioned that people may die because they can't aford medicine; they can freeze to death because real estate agents get hold of empty houses and offer them for sale for the rich. Nobody thought they would burn alive because of home-made coal heating, because they can't afford gas for central heating.

    Some people earned lots. Some lost all. Not to mention most of state-funded institutions. Nowadays the best teenagers can do is to go and rob someone, watch TV, and drink beer. Build your own RC car? How? Tools! Parts! Knowledge! Cost! Completely beyond reach.

    Most of Eastern Europe fell from inefficient communism into brutal capitalism because of all the money to be made (for the very few rich), when what they needed was the efficient socialism of, e.g., Sweden.

    In Sweden, most people don't pay taxes, which are income based in two brackets -- the bottom bracket pays 0%, and the upper bracket, which begins at 10% above the mean wage earned amounts to a tax of 57% of the portion of income above that level. As you might imagine, Sweden's system compresses almost everyone into the middle class while still allowing for plenty of incentive. This has resulted in an economy that looks perfect from the perspective of a capitalist or communist nation, with ultra-low unemployment, inflation, national debt, poverty, and infant mortality, and ultra-high longevity, per-capita spending power, and literacy. They have a thriving economy at all sizes of business, from sole-proprietorships to multinationals (e.g., Ikea, Volvo, Ericsson.) Sweden frequently ranks as the #1 place in the world to live on aggregate quality-of-life rankings.

    I don't understand why so many of the post-communist countries aren't following Sweden's lead.

  • by Qrlx (258924) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @03:12AM (#7607068) Homepage Journal
    When I, a "socialist" "liberal" "secular humanist" am in agreement with Phyllis Schlafly, or even Pat Robertson for that matter (who was spot-on when he said that there's very little difference between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton), something has come unglued.

    What exactly are "conservatives" conserving? It's surely not the budget, the environment, or our soldiers. Why do most "liberal" "intellectuals" I know own guns?

    I would carry on, but now it's time to stampede some bitch at wal-mart so I can spent my welfare check on something shiny.
  • 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.
  • Re:Why did you (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pofy (471469) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @05:56AM (#7607483)
    >wait until 9PM to post this? More people would
    >see it if you posted it tomorrow morning.

    Yes, the whole world lives in your time zone too. besides, do you only read news that is a few hours old??? To bad for you.
  • Re:Open them eyes... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @07:50AM (#7607754)
    Waitaminute.
    Your local government has (through laziness) a body of law with references to a commercial document. What prohibits your local government from publishing that law explicitly, should it choose to do so? Is the government body contractually obligated not to publish the law explicitly? It strikes me that the error is with the government body for referencing someone else's IP in a law, and not with the company which is gleefully charging for it.
    Could you not seek legal aid to get a court order to compel the government body to publish the law in an explicit form, and not by reference to a commercial document covered by copyright? Or perhaps sue the government body for the $70 to purchase the book, plus costs, of course?

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