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For the sake of keeping this question focused, I am limiting the subject matter to technical data sheets. More so, to electronic component data sheets. I.e. for such components as resistors, capacitors integrated circuits, connectors, etc. Commercial electronic component distributors such as DigiKey, Mouser, Arrow, etc. offer 100's of thousands of these for the myriad of components they sell. Most often they are in the form of a viewable or downloadable PDF. These "data sheets" or "specs" list all of the technical particulars of the components such as physical size and electrical characteristics, as well as providing lots of advice on how to use the component in a product you might be designing.

The data sheets are created by the individual manufacturers of the components which are sold by the on-line distributors. Virtually every such component has such a data sheet. These can range in length from a few pages to hundreds of pages.

My question is: are these data sheets protected by US copyright law? Could I, hypothetically, copy 10,000 of these to my own website and offer them to the general public for free? My question is NOT how to go about getting permission from the manufacturers (corporate authors). Rather, my question is do the component manufacturers have any legal ability to prevent and remedy such mass copying?

Knowing full well that such legal questions generally generate a lot of hypothetical, provisional and tentative answers, my further question is has there ever been a specific legal case decided on this specific copyright or IP issue?

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  • Related: For information only. This is not an answer to your question but is relevant enough to be worth conveying, I think :-) ||. I carried out product design and development in China using Chinese and other components. When looking at data sheets for products such as LEDs I would find likely-unique phrasing in a data sheet and web-search for it. ... Oct 15 '20 at 9:27
  • Note that in some countries, even if you got approval from the manufacturers, you could have issue if you took all the data sheets that have been collected by resellers. It amounts to a database, and that, in turn, is protected. Now the manufacturers probably don't really have an issue with you re-publishing the data sheets if you're a reseller, but resellers may. Also, some resellers (Mouser at least IIRC) actually append an additional page to each data sheet which links back to their site. It is quite possible that they embed other information in there that makes tracking easy.
    – jcaron
    Oct 15 '20 at 20:28
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Yes, they are protected by copyright

They are literary works:

According to 17 USCS § 101 "Literary works" are works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied.

The copyright owner (in this case the component manufacturer) has the sole right to make or authorize copies (among other rights). Whether the choose to enfore those rights is up to them; they are not obliged to do so.

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  • 1
    Datasheets contain s substantial amount of factual statement, e.g. the hfe of a BC108 at an Ic of 2mA is going to be around 110 irrespective of who made it, so the fact that that figure is in the datasheet can't be subject to copyright. It can certainly be subject to patent protection (although that particular component has been around for 50 years or so) and the overall presentation and phrasing can be subject to copyright for its presentation, but statements of fact are statements of fact for a' that. Oct 15 '20 at 21:05
  • @MarkMorganLloyd but the layout, the font choice, the graphics etc. and therefore the overall sheet is subject to copyright.
    – Dale M
    Oct 15 '20 at 21:12
  • The /presentation/ and verbose descriptions can be copyrighted and logos etc. are protected as trademarks, but not the facts. This was dealt with many years ago in the context of telephone directories and business listings. Oct 16 '20 at 7:02
  • @MarkMorganLloyd sure. You can take the data off the sheet and reproduce it - you can’t copy the sheet.
    – Dale M
    Oct 16 '20 at 7:12
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Yes, they are protected by copyright. A copyright owner can control how the material is copied and disseminated. No, you can't store, copy and disseminate a copyrighted work without the owner's permission. And note that TI does have a copyright notice on its datasheets. enter image description here

As it happens, it is to the advantage of the manufacturer to get the datasheets out to customers. Therefore, TI has this notice on their web site -

TI grants permission to download, print copies, store downloaded files on a computer and reference this information in your documents only for your personal and non-commercial use. But remember, TI retains its copyright in all of this information. This means that you may not further display, reproduce, or distribute this information without permission from Texas Instruments. This also means you may not, without our permission, "mirror" this information on your own server, or modify or re-use this information on another system.

TI further grants permission to non-profit, educational institutions (specifically K-12, universities and community colleges) to download, reproduce, display and distribute the information on these pages solely for use in the classroom. This permission is conditioned on not modifying the information, retaining all copyright notices and including on all reproduced information the following credit line: "Courtesy of Texas Instruments". Please send us a note describing your use of this information under the permission granted in this paragraph. Send the note and describe the use according to the request for permission explained below.

This does not seem to give you the permission you would like to have.

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    While the datasheets underly copyright, many resellers or bulk sellers request permission to store the datasheets for their customers or bypass it by linking to the original datasheets of the manufacturer. Others make their own datasheets based on the mere information.
    – Trish
    Oct 15 '20 at 8:01
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This is not a direct answer to your question BUT is relevant enough to be worth conveying as an 'answer', I think :-). [I realise that the answer may be deleted as "not an answer" but I think that it adds usefully to the subject].

I carried out product design and development in China using Chinese and other components. When looking at data sheets for products such as LEDs I would find likely-unique phrasing in a data sheet and web-search for it. This would often turn up a number of data sheets which could be any of:

  • identical except for part numbers

  • somewhat modified but clearly false technically

  • somewhat modified and possibly correct technically, and quite often

  • the original which spawned the tree of others.

This did not NECESSARILY mean that the product itself was technically flawed, but gave some guidance to the manufacturer's ethos and what to look for in their products.

Worst case, some LED products in no way met claimed specifications despite the manufacturer possessing sophisticated test equipment (seen on site) and allegedly using it to produce specification data.

A key "takeaway" is that the illicit use of copyright datasheets from other manufacturers is a useful guide to what to possibly expect and a demonstration of the usefulness of copyright in this context.

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