Let's say someone did a lot of tests in a material, for example, STEEL, and found out some properties like tensile strength, yield strength, etc. Then this person take those values, put in a nice table and put in a book or document that is copyrighted.

I know that figures and table ARE copyrighted but, what if the content of those tables are considered FACT? Can someone use it without the permission of it's owner (the one that generated the table and did all the tests).

As I'm not a 'law' guy, can someone explain to the the 'legal meaning' of 'fact' in the Copyright law? Can this be applied to the case explained above?

Thank you!

  • This question is a request for legal advice, but could be reworded to be generalized. Request s for legal advice is not appropriate for this site.
    – Andrew
    Jun 29, 2020 at 16:47
  • What is your jurisdiction? Is it the owner of the "standard code" that you will be using that is saying you can't use it?
    – Andrew
    Jun 29, 2020 at 16:49
  • Also, you seem to be confusing "material properties" and "standard code". Which one are you asking about? They are two different things.
    – Andrew
    Jun 29, 2020 at 16:51
  • 1. 'Material Properties' vs 'Standard Code' - I don't think it's two different things. I'll give you one example: ASME BPVC Section II. It's a standard code which describe the properties of materials (tensile strength, yield strength, ect, etc). 2. Is it the owner of the 'Standard Code' that you'll be using that is saying you can't use it? Yes. 3. This question is a request for legal advice, but could be reworded to be generalized - I'll edit the question so it can be 'generalized' as you said, so we wouldn't be talking about a specific case. Thank you for the advice.
    – xadun
    Jun 29, 2020 at 17:12
  • OH! I thought by "code" you meant computer code, not standards/regulations.
    – Andrew
    Jun 29, 2020 at 18:05

2 Answers 2


Generally, scientific data cannot have a copyright in the USA.

US Copyright law sets out what can and cannot be copyrighted in 17 USC S102: Section (a) lists out what can be copyrighted.

Section (b) lists what cannot be and is as follows:

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

The Notes for section (b) state:

Nature of Copyright. Copyright does not preclude others from using the ideas or information revealed by the author’s work. It pertains to the literary, musical, graphic, or artistic form in which the author expressed intellectual concepts. Section 102(b) makes clear that copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work. Some concern has been expressed lest copyright in computer programs should extend protection to the methodology or processes adopted by the programmer, rather than merely to the “writing” expressing his ideas. Section 102(b) is intended, among other things, to make clear that the expression adopted by the programmer is the copyrightable element in a computer program, and that the actual processes or methods embodied in the program are not within the scope of the copyright law. Section 102(b) in no way enlarges or contracts the scope of copyright protection under the present law. Its purpose is to restate, in the context of the new single Federal system of copyright, that the basic dichotomy between expression and idea remains unchanged.

The corollary here is that the copyrightable element in the standard is the arrangement of the information and the listed reasoning, but not the data itself.

In Feist Pubs., Inc. v. Rural Tel. Svc. Co., Inc., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) the US Supreme Court held that "the fundamental axiom of copyright law is that no one may copyright facts or ideas." stating:

A compilation is not copyrightable per se, but is copyrightable only if its facts have been "selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship." § 101 (emphasis added). Thus, the statute envisions that some ways of selecting, coordinating, and arranging data are not sufficiently original to trigger copyright protection. Even a compilation that is copyrightable receives only limited protection, for the copyright does not extend to facts contained in the compilation. § 103(b).

In Feist, the Court held that the raw data in Rural's white pages was not copyrightable, however, Rural would have a copyright in the work as a whole because of information outside the raw facts.

As for standards like Building Codes, Plumbing Codes, Electrical Codes, they are protected by copyright.

It will be interesting to see whether this changes in the future considering the recent Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org case where the Court held that the annotations to the official code of Georgia are not copyrightable. We will have to wait and see if Building Codes, being incorporated into the Law, means they cannot be copyrighted. Currently, however, they are copyrighted.

  • I'm not from USA but I think that everyone that have a website tries to follow USA Copyright Law because, you know, most servers are in there and also Google is an USA company. If you can't be sued because you are from another country they will sue your server for hosting your website or Google for show it in the search page. Anyway, thank you for your answer, it is just what I was looking for. Oh, and I found out that Public Resource is being sued by many standard/regulation companies and I'm quite curious to see how it'll end. Thank you!!
    – xadun
    Jun 29, 2020 at 20:54

Somewhat tangentially (by way of clarification) a statement of standards is protected by copyright, so a work such as ASME BPVC Section II is protected, because they are more than mere collections of independently-existing data. The standards are created by ASME, and constitute an expression of certain ideas regarding what is safe versus unsafe. The contents of such works are distinguished from telephone numbers and names which are "natural facts" not involving a whit of creativity, as was the case with the material at issue in Feist. But within such a protected work, there could easily be a list of independent physical facts such as tensile strength of steel, which are not protected, even if the value were previously unknown.

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