[odc-discuss] Fwd: [OSM-legal-talk] LWN article on license change and Creative Commons

Rufus Pollock rufus.pollock at okfn.org
Tue Feb 1 17:56:33 UTC 2011

On 1 February 2011 15:30, Jonathan Rochkind <rochkind at jhu.edu> wrote:
> You're right, it is a complicated legal terrain, esp in the US.
> But I think most of the entities in the US "making and selling non-open dbs,
> from geodata to legal decisions, from chemistry to restaurants" protect them
> with contract law and licenses, not with Intellectual Property restrictions.

I assume this is a response to my comment on your point about 'taking
more databases out of the commons'. What I was saying was that the
current situation in the US with its 'weak' IP "protection" for
databases did not actually seem to make a lot of difference to the
existence (r not) of a db commons as there are plenty of ways to
protect the DB with or without this IP protection (to be fair this is
a very difficult point to decide either way since we'd need to run a
counter-factual with stronger, or weaker, protection).

It is also possible that, in a world in which people can protect dbs
effectively by means other than IP, giving people reasonably 'strong'
IP rights around dbs actually encourages the commons since it allows
people who want to share (but not have others "free-ride") a viable
way to do this (and the stronger protections are helping anyone
'enclose' the commons since that is already possible by other means).

>  That is, they are using the methods that Mike was somewhat resistant to use
> -- binding people to contractual agreements that add restrictions not to
> share the data, rather than relying on inherent intellectual property
> protections against copying or use and then licensing certain uses, as CC
> and open source licenses (which rely on copyright) do.

That's possible -- just as many people using copyright also use access
control etc. The point is those wishing to have closed stuff have
plenty of ways for doing so ...

> But yeah, it's really complicated.  In some cases , there are copyright
> protections for databases in aggregate (it can be hard to predict if you are
> one of those cases without going to court to see what the judge says, which
> is not a great platform for a CC-like solution) --  but in many/most of

Not sure what you mean by a 'CC-like' solution. Do you mean a solution
involving licenses? That seems much broader (and older) than CC :)

> those cases taking individual elements out of that data set and re-using
> them for your own needs would not be protected by copyright. As I understand
> it. Fortunately (hopefully), the CC has actual lawyers involved who are
> expert at IP; if they can come up with some way that legal experts think is
> defensible, under US law,  to protect general "data" through copyright
> protections rather than use contracts (say, click-throughs) that impose new
> restrictions by contractual agreement -- I'll be surprised.

What do you mean by 'general data'? Surely that's the crucial question.

If you haven't seen them already you may interested in my blog posts
from a couple of years ago that talk about why use licenses on data:


Also these comments on the Science Commons / Creative Commons Protocol
for Implementing Open Access Data -- the protocol recommended PD-only
for data for a few reasons, reasons I generally don't agree with as
you'll see from the post :) :



> On 2/1/2011 8:31 AM, Rufus Pollock wrote:
>> On 24 January 2011 16:39, Jonathan Rochkind<rochkind at jhu.edu>  wrote:
>>> On 1/23/2011 1:32 AM, Mike Linksvayer wrote:
>>>>  The issue is whether the instrument in question grants permissions
>>>> which
>>>> can be thought of as carve outs from copyright and related restrictions,
>>>> or
>>>> whether the instrument also attempts to create new restrictions which
>>>> are
>>>> not present by default. I assume the latter extremely dangerous until
>>>> proven
>>>> otherwise -- exceptions and limitations ought be increased, not
>>>> diminished.
>>>> Any public license that attempts to work around limitations had better
>>>> have
>>>> a truly massive and clear win for doing so.
>>> I think you're absolutely right here -- but the problem with 'data' is
>>> that
>>> in general it is NOT covered by copyright (or, in general, any other IP)
>>> in
>>> the U.S.  So there is no way to 'carve out exceptions' from existing
>>> protections -- there are no existing protections. The only way to make
>>> restrictions is create new ones which are not present by default.
>> Jonathan: you've got to be careful here. The US does provide for
>> various kinds of 'protection' in relation to collections of data
>> (termed a 'database' -- by definition -- in ODC licenses) -- of course
>> this protection varies (and e.g. a plain telephone book may not
>> receive protection) but such protection can exist.
>> Furthermore no jurisdiction (i know of) provides monopoly protection
>> in the form of IP rights for individual 'data' facts (e.g. London is
>> long/lat x/y). It is the variety of meanings of the term 'data -- from
>> individual (or small number) of items to large collections -- that
>> makes using the simple 'data' in these discussions very confusing and
>> why using the term database (for the collection) is probably a good
>> idea.
>>> This recognition, combined with an agreement with your analysis that it's
>>> very dangerous to try and do this -- is one of the major factors which
>>> led
>>> so many entities looking at this before to arrive at the "public domain"
>>> solution.
>> Maybe but I don't really see why this necessarily leads to a PD
>> solution (one can advocate a PD solution for many other reasons
>> though).
>>> There will be no way to apply a copyright-with-license solution to "open
>>> access with restrictions" for data(bases) in the U.S. in the general
>>> case,
>>> because in the U.S. in the general case, according to current law,
>>> data(bases) are not covered by copyright. (Unless the contents of the
>> I don't believe this is correct as an analysis of the law in the US,
>> at least as I understand it (and IANAL etc :) ), see:
>> <http://www.opendefinition.org/guide/data/#us>
>> There is particularly good overview of the case law here:
>> <http://carrollogos.blogspot.com/2009/02/copyright-in-databases.html>
>> Summary: yes the US does limit protection for databases in the wake of
>> Feist but depending on the originality, structure etc the DB may get
>> protection (see, as a clear example Red Book decision on a listing of
>> used car prices).
>> If there are any other experts out there with knowledge of relevant
>> case-law please send it along (it can also get incorporated in that
>> guide).
>>> database are copyrightable 'content', in which case existing CC licenses
>>> are
>>> perfectly sufficient and there's no need for anything else -- the
>>> different
>>> legal status of 'data' in general vs 'content' is exactly why we're
>>> having
>>> this discussion). Of course, current law could change -- but we probably
>>> don't want to be pushing for a legal change that takes more data(bases)
>>> _out_ of the commons they are already in in the US, by applying IP
>>> controls
>>> to them!  That's not what "our side" roots for.
>> I think we should be a bit cautious about drawing the exact lessons of
>> the affect of DB rights on the commons.
>> I remember talking at some length with a world-renowned expert of DB
>> 'protection' and asking why the US did not have a DB law (after all,
>> sad to say it, most of the time when big holders of info get together
>> to get more rights they get them ...). His response was that most of
>> the people with valuable DBs already could get sufficient protection
>> via access control mechanisms etc and hence didn't see a lot of value
>> in an explicit DB right -- I also note there are lots of people in the
>> US making and selling non-open dbs, from geodata to legal decisions,
>> from chemistry to restaurants.
>> Rufus

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