I have written some (smallish) scientific apps which I would like to make public (open source). They use scientific data sets from NIST such as this. It would make sense to add a (slightly cleaned up) copy of the data set to my code. I plan to reference the source in comments and in the readme. Suppose an alternative would be to download the data every run from NIST - but as programmer I would really dislike this approach.

Being tiny hobby projects I don't want to employ a lawyer, so into how much risk am I getting? Are there best practices that I should follow?

I tried researching on my own - but I somehow couldn't find any reasonable resource. There are some tools around that I suppose get their data from this source (e.g. chemical suites that calculate molecular mass) - but I can't find out how and if they got rights for the data. Consider sisweb - it does very similar calculations but I can't find anything about the data they use. On the other hand I notice that NIST themselves don't include any citations to the researchers that contributed to the table.

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    Facts are not copyrightable, but databases might be (depends on jurisdiction). I think it's likely fine to include such data, but it may be worth explaining in your LICENSE or README file that you are not claiming the rights to these files, and to provide attribution to the source.
    – amon
    Jun 27, 2020 at 10:33

1 Answer 1


The underlying data is a set of established scientific facts, roughly {1, H, 1, 1.007 825 032 23(9), 0.999 885(70), 1.007 84, 1.008 11, D, 2, 2.014, 101, 778, 12(12), 0.000 115(70), T, 3, 3.016, 049, 2779(24)}, {…}… That data is presented in a form which might be protected by US copyright (if it's not a "government work"), but the data itself is unprotected, whether or not you use it in a free app or a paid app. The legal distinction is between that which is created, and that which is discovered. There is a valid scientific perspective that data is created, but that is not how the courts see the matter. Feist is, in the US, the controlling decision. It is possible in some other jurisdictions that there are laws that would prohibit using factual data taken a database without permission, but not in the US.

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