We are vendors who have paid to have a booth a local trade show in Dallas. Trade show attendees register using contact info (Name, Phone, Email, etc). The registration info is used to generate a leads lists that will be distributed 3-days later to the vendors by the show producer via email. Upon registration, attendees are informed that they will be contacted by vendors using the contact info they provided. The attendees are also given the options to opt out if do not want to be contacted.

Upon distributing the leads list, the show producer states "the email list is copyrighted and can not be shared."

Question: Can the show producer copyright an email list if they don't own nor created the email addresses? The email addresses were created and provided freely by the show attendees. Or what if I sell my business and I decide to sell the leads lists? Would there be a problem?

While I don't wish to share the list directly. When I do send out email blasts to the show attendees, I do plan to promote other vendors inside the contents of the email. I know that will not be a problem as I am not directly sharing the list with any other individual or business.

Thanks in advance!

  • Initially I was under the impression a leads list created in this fashion was protected by Copyright Law as "Compilation." However, I firmly believe that is not true. Copyright in compilation is a facet of copyright law that may provide copyright protection to a compilation (or collection) of material, irrespective of copyright in the underlying material. ... Copyright does not exist when content is compiled without creativity, such as in the production of a telephone directory. Attendees submitting contact info into a database which in turn outputs data as Excel/CSV format is not creativity.
    – Mr Riddler
    Jan 30 '17 at 17:17
  • The relevant body of law for this kind of issue is trade secret law, not copyright.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 30 '17 at 21:28

This falls within the penumbra of Feist v. Rural Telephone. The principle articulated there is that facts are not subject to copyright protection, but the expression of facts can be. Quoting from the ruling, "no author may copyright his ideas or the facts he narrates...however, it is beyond dispute that compilations of facts are within the subject matter of copyright". The distinction between protected vs. not protected hinges on originality: "The sine qua non of copyright is originality. To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original to the author". But it is not sufficient that the work is created by the "sweat of the brow" of an author: it must possess at least some minimal degree of creativity. Thus "[t]he writings which are to be protected are the fruits of intellectual labor, embodied in the form of books, prints, engravings, and the like".

As a concrete example, the ruling states "Census-takers, for example, do not 'create' the population figures that emerge from their efforts; in a sense, they copy these figures from the world around them...Census data therefore do not trigger copyright because these data are not 'original' in the constitutional sense." But, compilations of facts can be protected:

Factual compilations, on the other hand, may possess the requisite originality. The compilation author typically chooses which facts to include, in what order to place them, and how to arrange the collected data so that they may be used effectively by readers. These choices as to selection and arrangement, so long as they are made independently by the compiler and entail a minimal degree of creativity, are sufficiently original that Congress may protect such compilations through the copyright laws

An email list requires nothing more than brow-sweat, and even then, not much. A cleverly annotated and arranged email list would involve substantial creativity and would be subject to protection.

That does not mean that you didn't sign some agreement that prohibits you from copying or using the list, but it isn't a matter of copyright.

  • You get into the finer points of the law when that agreement to forbid copying is based on the (incorrect) statement that "the email list is copyrighted and can not be shared.". If this assumption is a honest mistake by both parties, does it form a contract?
    – MSalters
    Jan 31 '17 at 16:23
  • That's actually a really great question. It would seem that it doesn't form a contract. My research shows me, in a situation like your question, the contract, at least the part pertaining to the incorrect statement, would be null because it's based on an incorrect statement.
    – Mr Riddler
    Feb 1 '17 at 12:17

It is highly unlikely that the data in the list is subject to any form of copyright - facts are not subject to copyright and a list of names and addresses is strictly factual. The particular compilation (layout, font choice, colour etc.) is subject to copyright so distributing a photocopy may be problematic.

Notwithstanding, the list may be subject to a confidentiality clause in your contract with the organiser but this is different from copyright protection.

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