Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Copyrighting facts

An article at Wired News explores a bill making its way through Congress that would essentially allow companies to copyright facts in their databases. No big surprise that the largest proponents of the bill are LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Let's view some of the hypotheticals put forth in the article if the bill was passed:

". . . a public-health website could be deemed in violation of the law for gathering a list of the latest health headlines and providing links to them on its home page."

"Google would be in violation for trolling media databases and providing stories on its news page."

Does this bill seem a little strange to anyone else?

The proponents of the bill say that they spend a fortune to create, organize, and update their databases, but people can come in and freely take their information and redistribute it without penalty. Furthermore, proponents claim that there must be a sunstantial portion of a database used and that portion must be used in such a way to cause "commercial harm" to the data provider before the bill would come into effect. However, the article says that the language of the bill is written much more broadly and could very easily be applied to a very small amount of information.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is with sports scores. For example, if someone were to publish a historical sports score in an article that appeared in a magazine that was sold for profit, a database company that "owns" that sports score could have the right to sue.

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