Under another question of mine, I got an answer that states "copyright does not protect facts". However, I'm not sure whether this is always true. For example, there is a site called whosampled.com that collects songs and their original samples (which are facts as far as I'm aware). However, the TOS of the site states the following:

Our Service and all material available through our Service, including but not limited to text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, trade marks, databases, data and software (together the Content) are owned and controlled by or licensed to us, our affiliates and/or licensors. Those works are protected by copyright laws and treaties around the world. All rights in the Content are the sole and exclusive property of WhoSampled or such affiliates or licensors.

You must not scrape, extract, reproduce, duplicate, copy, sell, resell or exploit any data or other material available on the Service without our express written permission.

This sounds like they own the fact that one song is sampled from another, which contradicts with the original statement. Am I interpreting this correctly?

3 Answers 3


Whosampled.com is not just facts

The information that a song was sampled in another is a fact.

But the sample itself is not a fact! The sample is a sound file and an artistic work, for which Whosampled has most likely a license to offer, but which you under that license may not distribute.

Further, the agglomerate of the whole website is more than just a mere fact, it is a database.

Also, while a simple fact is technically free to reproduce, you still might contractually agree to not do certain things, like reproducing the facts.

Yet, Terms of Service don't always hold water and some passages might be illegal - and thus void.

  • Thank you! The site embeds YouTube videos with timestamps to showcase the samples. Also, how is the restriction of reproducing facts legal if the facts aren't protected by copyright? Jul 9, 2022 at 15:50
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    @TamásSengel Simple facts are not copyrighted, but a collection of them may still be. E.g a single address of someone is a fact, but a dictionary is more than that and therefore might be protected (because it takes a considerable effort to collect all data, keep it current and present it in an useful manner)
    – PMF
    Jul 9, 2022 at 15:54
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    @TamásSengel If I have information and you don’t then copyright including lack of copyright protection cannot stop me from giving you the information only if you pay me and sign a contract, which states that you won’t do things that copyright would allow. If you violate the contract, you’ll have to pay damages.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 9, 2022 at 17:18
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    It is not the effort at all but the creativity in putting together the collection. Deciding what facts to include, ordering the facts and arranging the display of the facts can exhibit creativity or might not exhibit creativity. Jul 9, 2022 at 18:10
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    @PMF A definition for a word isn't a pure fact, so I think it could be protected. Jul 9, 2022 at 19:52

In the US a collection facts might or might not be subject to copyright although the individual facts are not.

Which facts are collected and how they are ordered and arranged could or could not involve creativity.

Creativity is the key not the amount of work to assemble or maintain the collection.


17 USC 102(b) provides that

(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 case of Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) held that originality is an essential requirement for any copyright protection under US law. In particular it held that the telephone directory in the case had no copyright protection, even though significant effort was expended in creating and maintaining it. It firmly rejected the "sweat of the brow" theory of copyright, that the protection is in part a reward for the effort of collecting facts.

In the Feist opinion Justice O'CONNOR wrote:

This case concerns the interaction of two well-established propositions. The first is that facts are not copyrightable; the other, that compilations of facts generally are. Each of these propositions possesses an impeccable pedigree. That there can be no valid copyright in facts is universally understood. The most fundamental axiom of copyright law is that "[n]o author may copyright his ideas or the facts he narrates." Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U. S. 539, 471 U. S. 556 (1985). ... At the same time, however, it is beyond dispute that compilations of facts are within the subject matter of copyright. Compilations were expressly mentioned in the Copyright Act of 1909, and again in the Copyright Act of 1976.


The key to resolving the tension lies in understanding why facts are not copyrightable. The sine qua non of copyright is originality. To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original to the author. See Harper Row, supra, at 471 U. S. 547-549. Original, as the term is used in copyright, means only that the work was independently created by the author (as opposed to copied from other works), and that it possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity. 1 M. Nimmer & D. Nimmer, Copyright §§ 2.01[A], [B] (1990) (hereinafter Nimmer)


The originality requirement articulated in The Trade-Mark Cases and Burrow-Giles remains the touchstone of copyright protection today. See Goldstein v. California, 412 U. S. 546, 412 U. S. 561-562 (1973). It is the very "premise of copyright law." Miller v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 650 F.2d 1365, 1368 (CA5 1981).


The same is true of all facts -- scientific, historical, biographical, and news of the day. "[T]hey may not be copyrighted, and are part of the public domain available to every person." Miller, supra, at 1369.

Factual compilations, on the other hand, may possess the requisite originality. The compilation author typically chooses which facts to include, in what order to place them, and how to arrange the collected data so that they may be used effectively by readers. These choices as to selection and arrangement, so long as they are made independently by the compiler and entail a minimal degree of creativity, are sufficiently original that Congress may protect such compilations through the copyright laws. Nimmer §§ 2.11[D], 3.03; Denicola 523, n. 38. Thus, even a directory that contains absolutely no protectible written expression, only facts, meets the constitutional minimum for copyright protection if it features an original selection or arrangement. See Harper & Row, 471 U.S. at 471 U. S. 547. Accord, Nimmer § 3.03.

Thus while individual facts from a site such as whosampled will not be protected and may be freely copied, the collection of facts on such a site may be protected as a collection, and copying the selection and arrangement of facts may be infringement. And of course individual works or excepts found on the site are likely to be protected.

Note also that site TOS documents and policies may claim more rights than a court would grant.

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