a data licensing problem

Lawrence E. Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Fri Nov 8 23:47:47 UTC 2002

> > The telephone book is
> > copyrightable, although the individual names and numbers aren't.
> Say what?  I thought the whole point of Feist v. Rural Tel. 
> Serv. Co. was that even compilation copyright doesn't apply 
> to phone books, there being insufficient creativity, even for 
> an IP court, in merely alphabetizing names.

The Feist court was more ambiguous than either your comment or my
comment would indicate.  A telephone book that contains simply an
alphabetical listing of names, addresses and telephone numbers of every
telephone subscriber is probably not copyrightable.  The yellow pages,
on the other hand, probably is.  A telephone directory that contains
other copyrightable subject matter (How To Use a Telephone"
instructions, for example), or marital status, religion, etc., might be
copyrightable.  Neither of us knows what Russ' hypothetical company is
actually putting in its dataset, which again points out the folly of
giving legal advice over the Internet in response to a hypothetical

> > Suppose the copyright owner wants to let everyone use the dataset,
> But that isn't what they want.  They want only certain 
> privileged persons to use the dataset: those who run free 
> operating systems, or those who run free applications, it's 
> not clear which.  (What about free applications on unfree 
> OSes, or vice versa?)  That way they can continue to sell the 
> data to the Windows-using masses.  No way this is OSD-compliant.

You're right.  I twisted Russ' hypothetical to get a result I wanted.
If the real situation is as you describe it, not open source.

> > [I]f I were to take a published dictionary and add definitions and 
> > republish it, am I creating a derivative work of the dictionary?  I 
> > think so, but I'd want to verify this point.
> Sure you are.  The definientia in the dictionary are not 
> subject to copyright, but the definitions themselves 
> certainly are -- compare any two dictionaries from different 
> companies to see how very different the definitions are: no 
> content-form merger here!  The exemplary quotations are 
> generally considered fair use, although I don't know of any 
> actual court cases about this.

Go ahead and get your law degree so we can call you JD instead of IANAL.
But first take the course entitled "Why not to give specific legal
advice to non-clients over the Internet."  :-)  


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