LawRefs Customized Legal Information
Attorney Renee C. Walsh

Copyright Protection of “Databases”

Copyright law is covered by the Copyright Act of 1976, codified at 17 USC s 101 et seq. Some pertinent sections include, Sections 101, 102 and 103. Section 101 defines “compilation” as: “A work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship”. Section 102(b) provides: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” Section 103 limits the protection of a compilation to the author’s original contributions and not the facts or information conveyed.

Databases are collections of facts. Facts themselves are not granted copyright protection, but if they are compiled in an original manner, the compilation is protected. A minimal degree of creativity in putting together the facts in the compilation, is required. This creativity can be represented bythe facts chosen, the order in which they are placed and the arrangement chosen to serve a particular purpose (allowing the reader to effectively use the facts). Even if there is a valid copyright of the compilation of the facts (which themselves cannot be copyrighted), a subsequent compiler can use the facts contained in another’s compilation to use in a competing work, as long as the selection and arrangement of the competing work is not the same. The reason is that the facts do not become original through association (by being included in the compilation) and therefore, the copyright is limited to the particular selection and arrangement (the author’s contribution). To allow the facts such protection would grant a monopoly in public domain materials.

In order for a database / compilation to have copyright protection, there must be a collection and assembly of pre-existing material, facts, or data; the selection, coordination, or arrangement of those materials; and the creation by virtue of the particular selection, coordination, or arrangement, of an “original” work of authorship. Feist Publications, Inc. v Rural Telephone Service Co. 499 US 340 (1991). The principle focus should be on whether the selection, coordination, and arrangement are sufficiently original to merit protection. It has to be made independently without copying and it has to show a minimal level of creativity. Copyright rewards originality, not effort.

Bottom line: A database copyright at most will only protect the author’s original contributions and not the facts or information conveyed even if the facts or information were arrived at only through the industriousness of someone else. See Miller v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 650 F2d, at 1369-1370.

Discussion:

  1. Is CSS (Style Sheets) copyrightable? I’ve search the internet and no one seems to be able to answer this simple question. Has there ever been a lawsuit won over this?

    Thanks!

  2. Dear Alison:

    Generally speaking, the photograph is indeed copyrighted and if you re-publish and distribute the photograph, you will have infringed on the copyright holder’s ownership rights. In those cases, you are correct in seeking permission, legally referred to as a "license" to use the photograph. However, the exception to the law for "fair use" likely applies to your situation and this means if upon your reading you determine that one of the exceptions applies, you are entitled to reproduce and distribute the photograph.

    Under 17 USC 107, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
    (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
    (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    The contact information is:

    Domain Name: refblog.com

    Registrant:
    Aaron Propes
    967 Hyacinth Avenue East
    St. Paul, MN 55106
    Email: aaron@interactivetheatre.org

    Administrative Contact:
    RefBlog
    Gracie Propes
    1720 Marion Street #3
    Roseville, MN 55113
    US
    Phone: 612-201-8068
    Email: ref@refblog.com

    For your future reference, I found this information simply by going to: http://www.networksolutions…

    If you are pleased with the information I have provided for you, please tell others about me and this website.

  3. Hi, my name is alison and I wanted to know about whether certain material is copyrighted on blogs. I work for a crime prevention center (popcenter.org) and am a student/research assistant working under several professors. One of them asked me to find an image of a soccer referee giving out a red card for a "technique" to induce guilt/shame (which is a crime prevention technique). I wanted to see if I could obtain permission to use a picture of one image I have found on
    "Ref Blog" at refblog.com/pivot/entry.php?id=6

    There is no contact information and I am not sure whether this is public information/non-copyrighted, since it is a blog.

    Can you help me out?

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