Information Wants to Be Free?


So, I’m in the process of assembling a POI file and I’m trying to navigate what’s allowed and what’s not allowed in the compilation of what essentially is a database.

The ability to copyright just about any database is usually not contested, however the scope of protection can be disputed. It appears that one can use another database as a reference to compile another database (not in its entirely but in its selection) without infringing on copyright since the facts (or addresses) are not copyrightable, only that which is considered original expression (creativity) can be protected (see Feist decision).

On the other hand, don’t assume that all kinds of data are classified as freely available facts in the public domain. Certain kinds of data are considered expressive data (value-added information) that is protected, e.g., see After Feist: Automobile Red Book in Current Legal Issues in Publishing, by A. Bruce Strauch (Google books). Be aware also that a particular arrangement of data may also be considered protected. Research the finer points concerning the “merger doctrine”.

Note that the criterion of substantial investment of time required to compile a database or “sweat of the brow” is not considered enough in itself to confer a restrictive property right in the U.S. However, there may be “sui generis" rights under the laws of another political entity such as the E.U.

The exception to the above seems to be a contractual obligation involving the terms and conditions of use.

I am not a lawyer (IANAL) so do not take any of this as legal advice as the situation is subject to change or may have been misinterpreted.


Any exploration into this area goes through Nimmer on Copyright (available in the reference section of your local law school's law library).

Copyright, particularly dealing with maps and representations of geographic/topological features, and in proving ownership/copying of those works, goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years, to when early mapmakers put "cartographer's traps" such as features (mountains, rivers, etc.) that didn't exist on maps as traps for the unwary to copy. Such tricks continued with e.g. phone books, dictionaries, and encyclopaedias.

And such questions (is this infringing? can I get into trouble for doing this?) are notoriously fact specific, and the opinion rendered is just that -- an opinion. A judge and/or jury may not agree.

(I am an IP attorney and this is NOT a legal opinion!)

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