Ok, so there is this commercial software X that uses an SQLite DB (or rather multiple SQLite DBs that can be added/removed) for storage, so anyone can look at the scheme by just opening it.

We want to write and distribute (open source) a software Y to perform a similar task in another environment. It would be convenient to use a DB scheme that is close enough to software X format such that software X will be able to read it (and we know this would work).

Is that generally permitted? Since we do not only want to read/extend the files written by the software X, but also generate new files from scratch. So I am worried that typing out a SQLite schema suspiciously similar to the one used in X datafiles might be copyright infringement - what is your opinion?

Would this change if the format was incompatible with the original format, just laid out in a rather similar way such that someone who knew how to do it could easily convert it?

Does it matter whether I do this in the US or in the EU, and does it matter for where the users are?

  • I'm not sure if it's a valid defense against copyright infringement, but U.S. law explicitly allows a user to circumvent copy protection and DRM "for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs." The EU has similar rules. Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 18:30

2 Answers 2


I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, talk to a real lawyer, not pseudoanonymous people on the Internet.

The DB schema itself is almost certainly covered by the same license as the software which generates it or with which it is distributed, unless there are specifically articulable reasons for which this is not the case.

Unless that license allows unrestricted copying and/or creation of derivative works, I would think that, by default, you need to seek license from the rightsholder to copy or create derivative works. Without such a license, if an infringement claim were to be raised, your actions might be seen to be infringing. You might be vindicated in the end, or not.

I would recommend getting permission in writing or, failing in that, I would develop your schema independently with an eye to general interoperability in the future. Bonus points if you use an open source as the inspiration for your data model with documentary evidence of its provenance.

  • 2
    I'd trust this answer more if it justified itself with some citations or links. Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 21:55

A database schema is probably copyrightable because it is an "arrangement" of information. So, if you duplicated somebody else's schema, there would be a risk of getting sued.

  • 2
    A database organized by a schema is an arrangement. The schema itself is not. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 3:42

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