2

Say someone has curated a lot of data, such as molecule data, astronomical data, animal data and such like into a software program. Can you legally harvest all that data and put it in your own software program?

As an example, Wolfram Alpha has lots of data in it, so do websites like IMDB.

Can I harvest data from these sources and present it in my own way? Or is the data itself copyright?

Or is the act of harvesting the data itself illegal?

On the other hand if I curated lots of data and even gathered my own statistics and facts, is there anything to prevent someone else taking all that data and presenting it in their own software, book or film?

Edit: Just a side note. Wolfram Alpha did itself "scrape" all the data from lots of sources such as encyclopedias, books of facts, history books, and online databases. So in that sense I think its fair game! I mean why would it matter if you got planetary orbit data from Wolfram alpha as opposed to calculating it yourself. It's the same number either way!

If I curated a list of all animals starting with "A". How can that be copyright when someone else could do the same thing? Can you really copyright the idea of a list of animals starting with "A" just because you did it first?

2

The UK has specific legislation on this question, the The Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997. Section 16 says:

16.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, a person infringes database right in a database if, without the consent of the owner of the right, he extracts or re-utilises all or a substantial part of the contents of the database.

(2) For the purposes of this Part, the repeated and systematic extraction or re-utilisation of insubstantial parts of the contents of a database may amount to the extraction or re-utilisation of a substantial part of those contents.

So in the UK the answer is a pretty definite "no".

Bear in mind that the facts themselves cannot be copyrighted; if you go and collect and curate your own set of facts then you are in the clear, even if they are identical to the facts that someone else has collected (although if you have also duplicated any mistakes or arbitrary aspects of the arrangement of data then you have a problem).

1

You're asking two different questions: 1) are facts copyrightable and 2) is scraping legal.

US jurisdiction:

Facts can't be copyrighted, but their presentation can be. A good outline that doesn't need to be repeated is How can "factual" intellectual property be protected?

And from What Does Copyright Protect? (FAQ) | U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

Regarding Wolfram, their Wolfram|Alpha Terms of Use states that:

The specific images, such as plots, typeset formulas, and tables, as well as the general page layouts, are all copyrighted by Wolfram|Alpha at the time Wolfram|Alpha generates them. A great deal of scholarship and innovation is included in the results generated and displayed by Wolfram|Alpha, including the presentations, collections, and juxtapositions of data, and the choices involved in formulating and composing mathematical results; these are also protected by copyright.

and regarding harvesting and scraping:

Data Mining and Reverse Engineering

The Wolfram|Alpha service uses large collections of data aggregated from many sources, and sophisticated computational and natural language processing algorithms. You may not use multiple queries or specially constructed queries in an attempt to extract large datasets, to reverse engineer the algorithms used by Wolfram|Alpha, or to probe for vulnerabilities.

Spidering, data-mining, scraping, or probing Wolfram|Alpha, or otherwise attempting to abuse the service, is not only a violation of these terms but may also constitute violation of federal and state laws concerning unauthorized access to computer systems.

Regarding IMDB; that's a different animal; their "data" is comprised of copyrighted images, reviews; some of the data could be construed as facts, such as what moved Clint Eastwood starred in. But the Conditions of Use - IMDb says that

All content included on this site in or made available through any IMDb Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, video clips, digital downloads, data compilations, and software, is the property of IMDb or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws. The compilation of all content included in or made available through any IMDb Service is the exclusive property of IMDb and protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All software used in any IMDb Service is the property of IMDb or its software suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws.

and regarding harvesting and scraping:

Robots and Screen Scraping: You may not use data mining, robots, screen scraping, or similar data gathering and extraction tools on this site, except with our express written consent as noted below.

So,

On the other hand if I curated lots of data and even gathered my own statistics and facts, is there anything to prevent someone else taking all that data and presenting it in their own software, book or film?

It depends on the nature of your statistics and facts, if indeed they are really facts as outlined in copyright law; if so, they could be copied. The presentation of them would be copyrighted. But whether or not they are really facts remains to be seen, either by your usage or possibly by a court in the event of a dispute.

  • The part where they say "may also constitute violation of federal and state laws concerning unauthorized access" is known to be false: violation of TOS was ruled not to render web access a violation of unauthorized access laws. – user6726 Nov 11 '18 at 19:51
  • I didn't know that. I wonder if a TOS that misstates the law renders part(s) of the TOS invalid. – BlueDogRanch Nov 11 '18 at 21:41
  • 1
    I think that's an overstatement of how settled the law is on this question. As I understand it, the courts remain divided on whether a TOS violation is a CFAA violation. – bdb484 Nov 12 '18 at 0:15
  • But where do you think they got all the data for Wolfram Alpha? They scraped it out of books of facts! – zooby Nov 12 '18 at 5:40
  • How do you know that? What data are you talking about? 1,2,3, Pi, etc., are not copyrightable. – BlueDogRanch Nov 12 '18 at 6:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.