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Every source of stock market quotes, trade volume, and related statistics (other than maybe a physical printed newspaper) contains dire legalese that attempts to prohibit anyone without express permission from republishing the stock quote data.

Are stock market quotes and related information protected by copyright or any other form of IP law? Could stock markets or the authorized distributors of their data bring about any consequences legally to someone who republishes the data without permission?

Assuming financial market quotes can't be copyrighted, can the distributors of the information (exchanges or their authorized distributors) use a contract (terms of service) to prevent someone from redistributing the data that they don't own (the copyright to) in the first place.

  • Possible duplicate of Can you copyright data? – Libra Jul 8 '16 at 2:35
  • @TomAu My question is not just about copyrighting data. It is about using a contract to prevent distribution of data. I don't think it's fair to group this question into such a broad category. – user2497 Jul 8 '16 at 2:36
  • It's sometimes done that way on other SE sites. I'm willing to let others decide for this site. – Libra Jul 8 '16 at 2:39
  • @TomAu That's fine. Please initiate whatever process is necessary for others to decide. With all due respect, I believe your standards are too loose for calling this a generic data-copyright question. I have added an extra sentence to make sure the uniqueness of my question is clear. – user2497 Jul 8 '16 at 2:47
  • I would also like to say that I believe this question related to public financial market data is important to preserve because I could not find anything online similar to it. It is my hope someone will eventually answer it definitively. I believe it is important for the public to have free and open access to the use of public exchange trade data. I believe attention should be given to the restrictive terms used by financial exchanges and expensive data providers to restrict free public use of the information. – user2497 Jul 8 '16 at 2:52
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I believe that it varies by country. The law provides protection for databases and data sets, where sufficient creativity/choice/curatorship has gone into its creation. It's separate from but similar to copyright law. So far it exists in several countries including the EU but I'm hazy whether it exists in the US (from memory it doesn't) and the exact criteria.

In any case such a website may not meet the criterion for copyright - although the original data creator (the stock exchange whose data is being used/reused) may have.

I don't know about IP law - is the fact of a current price (or dataset of such facts at different times) protectable as IP instead? Are facts generally? Can I declare facts such as my street address, or a number, as IP? Clearly commercial effort goes into it, and clearly it can be protected by contract but copyright/IP law is less clear to me. The question of copyright protection for a commercially valuable number has been tried in court, however, as has the question of a commercially valuable number which is constructed into a number that is notable for noncommercial reasons.

(As a possibly similar thought-question that might shed light on it - suppose a website is hosted using stock settings of some "off the shelf" website software, can they sue for copyright/look and feel over the appearance of their site? Probably not since they didn't put creative/novel/original effort into it. But the original software creator probably could.)

Hope this partial answer helps.

Updated to answer follow-up comment

First off, you can't force a person to do something based on a contract with someone else. Only the websites contract with the end user (terms of use etc) can do that. So the supplier's contract with the stock price website cannot in any way force an end user to do or not do anything. It can however require the vendor to set specific terms and enforce them. It can require the vendor to sue an abuser of the website terms (or allow the supplier to do so in their place and at their risk) if the supplier says to do so. Or it can allow for anything else agreed between the data supplier and the stocks website.

The flip side is that this would be a contract case for damages. Unless there are statutory damages (which don't exist in most countries and exist but might not apply in the US), the supplier would have to prove the harm and loss forseeably and directly suffered and would only be compensated for that alone. A lot of breach of contract cases just aren't worth taking to court for that reason - because you could prove the contract was breached but not that you lost anything, much less that your loss was a direct result and foreseeable by the end user.

(In the EU, you'd also have to be able to show that the terms were not unreasonable as the law protects consumers from gross disparity if ability to set contract terms, and fixed terms deemed unfair, but that probably wouldn't be an issue here).

The latter part of the followup is essentially discussing nondisclosure agreements. You don't have to own the data for that - there is legal consideration by each party and that's enough (each has given something to the other: "I will show you some information if you agree to these conditions"). But that's contractual too, and the same applies, if the user shared the data anyway or disclosed it, your damages would quite likely be limited to the loss you could prove, whatever the contract says.

Last the law on databases/data sets isn't something I know huge amounts about. Where such a law existed, a supplier would probably argue that sufficient original effort went into the collation and organisation of the data and the user would probably counterargue that this was mere storage of data and no original work was involved, or that any damage (if any) was negligible and would have to be proven. As databases have their own law and not pure copyright law, they might be right or wrong, depending on the jurisdiction and wording of the law.

Wikipedia articles of relevance to databases/datasets:

  • Thanks for the answer. Actually, your statement "clearly it can be protected by contract" goes to the heart of the question. Every authorized vendor requires terms (a contract) that expressly prohibits re-distribution of the data. But can they do this? Can you make me agree to a contract that says you will tell me some numbers but I can't tell anyone else the numbers and then enforce that in court? Wouldn't you have to own that information first? (You can't own numbers, obviously.) I'd love it if you could expand on that part. Thanks again. – user2497 Jul 6 '16 at 8:39
  • I know you were speaking broadly and didn't make this point, but just to explore the idea -- I would challenge the notion that any real creativity/choice/curatorship went into producing the data set. The values simply reflect trading in the financial markets like temperatures reflect this past week's weather. Anyway, I really appreciate your comments. I can't find a single word online that challenges financial data IP. – user2497 Jul 6 '16 at 8:48
  • Updated answer to address this – Stilez Jul 6 '16 at 9:36

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