Public Domain Information: Where is the Line Drawn?

12 replies
Let's say there was a subscription magazine which provided you, a socialite, with details of the hottest word-of-mouth club openings this coming month.

Given that the only place you can seem to find that information is in that magazine, where is the line drawn as far as public domain information is concerned? ie what is to stop somebody from starting a rival magazine and copying those same details and providing them to their subscribers?

If it is details of a real business, with a real telephone number and opening times and whatnot, surely this is public information usable by anybody...or not?

Thoughts?
#domain #drawn #information #line #public
  • Profile picture of the author dvduval
    If the information is easily obtained by the public, and you are just reorganizing it, there is reason to support the notion you can then display it. Similar examples would be displaying baseball statistics or genealogy info. However, if you are just taking their list that they compiled, that could be going a little too far. Reorganizing it and adding your own info would be slightly better.
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    • Profile picture of the author Josh Anderson
      Originally Posted by dvduval View Post

      If the information is easily obtained by the public, and you are just reorganizing it, there is reason to support the notion you can then display it.
      Baloney.

      Don't listen to baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad advice like that unless you are willing to face the cost of defending a copyright lawsuit and paying the settlement.

      If you want to learn about where the line is drawn on Public Domain consult a lawyer or buy this indispensable resource written by one and put out by the non profit Nolo.com:

      The Public Domain: How to Find Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More

      Nolo is supported by a staff of over one hundred legal editors, software developers, customer service representatives, salespeople, web developers and others. Everyday, they strive to provide customers with the most accurate, easy-to-use plain-English legal and business solutions available. They are the people behind Nolo's trusted legal expertise, great customer service and commitment to being Your Legal Companion.
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    • Profile picture of the author Steven Carl Kelly
      Originally Posted by dvduval View Post

      If the information is easily obtained by the public, and you are just reorganizing it, there is reason to support the notion you can then display it. Similar examples would be displaying baseball statistics or genealogy info.
      Sort of! Actually, if the information is a fact, like the baseball statistics in this example, then they cannot be copyrighted and you would be free to publish the information in whatever form you wish.

      In fact, there are a number of classes of works that are NOT covered by copyright:

      Facts
      Works created by the United States Government
      Works not fixed in a tangible form of expression
      Ideas, concepts, principles, or discoveries
      Words, phrases, or familiar symbols

      A compilation of facts in an original form can be copyrighted. The facts themselves cannot. So you could quite easily select facts published in another source and then arrange those facts in an original way and copyright the resulting work yourself.

      Similarly, ideas or concepts cannot be copyrighted. So if I come up with a great new idea for finding high paying, low competition keywords, I cannot copyright that idea -- I can only copyright the form in which that idea is expressed. So I could put out an e-book describing the idea and copyright the e-book, but the idea itself cannot be copyrighted -- so someone else could re-publish that idea in a new and original form.

      For example:
      Einstein's theory of special relativity is not copyrightable because it is an idea (or concept or principle). However, Einstein's article, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," in which he explained and expressed the theory, was copyrightable.
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      • Profile picture of the author kindsvater
        That post by dvduval should be ignored. Bad advice.

        The entire thread is has several different copyright rules all mashed together - in a bad way.

        For starters, the OP is confusing public domain with fair use.

        Public domain is a bright line - which is where the title of the thread was going. It is either in the public domain or it is not.

        Fair use (and not public domain) is what the OP intended to refer to. That can be a very gray and sticky area that is impossible to define for all possible uses. That is, for example, 20 words taken in one context may be fair use, but 10 words taken in another context may be copyright infringement.

        Then dvduval tosses into the mix items which may not be covered by copyright - an entirely different issue. Even baseball statistics has been (and currently is) the subject of litigation.
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        • Profile picture of the author Steven Carl Kelly
          Originally Posted by kindsvater View Post

          Public domain is a bright line - which is where the title of the thread was going. It is either in the public domain or it is not.
          Right on the mark.
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        • Profile picture of the author xiaophil
          Josh thanks for the Nolo tip, first I had heard of them.

          Originally Posted by kindsvater View Post

          That can be a very gray and sticky area that is impossible to define for all possible uses.
          I knew a lawyer once who had a similar statement bound to <F1>

          Originally Posted by kindsvater View Post

          Public domain is a bright line - which is where the title of the thread was going. It is either in the public domain or it is not.
          After finding some old but useful publications from a US government department I wondered if they could be updated and rehashed into reports. Someone threw a spanner in my works by suggesting that even though the text may be PD the diagrams or photos may not be and if parts were produced by subcontractors they would almost definitely not be. They all just have the typical government disclaimer at the beginning.

          Is there a need to have such things legally appraised before using them and is there a person or place that provides such a service? How can someone be sure where that bright line really lies?
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          • Profile picture of the author Josh Anderson
            Originally Posted by xiaophil View Post

            After finding some old but useful publications from a US government department I wondered if they could be updated and rehashed into reports. Someone threw a spanner in my works by suggesting that even though the text may be PD the diagrams or photos may not be and if parts were produced by subcontractors they would almost definitely not be. They all just have the typical government disclaimer at the beginning.

            Is there a need to have such things legally appraised before using them and is there a person or place that provides such a service?
            That Nolo book will go in depth helping you to understand those issues and guide you on how to find out what is and what is not in the public domain...

            Of course that does not mean someone will not challenge you.

            The great thing about the Nolo book is it will help you think through the issue and help you identify and understand how to approach risk.

            Where you are not completely certain or where the risk may be greater you can decide whether it will be necessary to consult a a specialized attorney to assist you.

            When you are dealing with fair use and public domain issues... if it is not absolutely clear where you lay after doing the research then permission may be your best bet.

            How can someone be sure where that bright line really lies?
            Well some of the law is really cut and dry... for example US written works published before 1923 are all in the public domain. But many US works published as late as 1989 may also be in the public domain due to various aspects of copyright law that cause the copyrights to be expired.

            Here is a good cheat sheet: http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/res...blicdomain.cfm

            But again that Nolo book will help you understand where the lines lay for various types of works etc.

            For those reading this thread don't forget what Brian Kindsvater said about the OP... the question should not really have been stated as a PD question as it was really a Fair Use question:

            Originally Posted by kindsvater View Post

            That post by dvduval should be ignored. Bad advice.

            The entire thread is has several different copyright rules all mashed together - in a bad way.

            For starters, the OP is confusing public domain with fair use.

            Public domain is a bright line - which is where the title of the thread was going. It is either in the public domain or it is not.

            Fair use (and not public domain) is what the OP intended to refer to. That can be a very gray and sticky area that is impossible to define for all possible uses. That is, for example, 20 words taken in one context may be fair use, but 10 words taken in another context may be copyright infringement.

            Then dvduval tosses into the mix items which may not be covered by copyright - an entirely different issue. Even baseball statistics has been (and currently is) the subject of litigation.
            I don't want anyone to get confused by our Public Domain discussion.
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      • Profile picture of the author Josh Anderson
        [Edited]

        I am removing what I just posted to say "I second" what Brian (above) just posted based on his knowledge as a legal professional.
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  • Profile picture of the author jakesellers
    I am not a lawyer, but my layman rule of thumb is if my use of copyrighted material could possibly diminish the commercial value of the original I steer clear. Public domain stuff online is always a potential trap, particularly if somebody's selling it. I'd have to be sure beyond the shadow of a doubt and few purveyors of things like "public domain clipart" have convincing arguments.
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  • Profile picture of the author Steven Carl Kelly
    Redbeard, here's a useful (and free!) online resource:

    Copyright | Citizen Media Law Project
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  • Profile picture of the author MJ Schaefer
    Thanks for that Steven, very helpful.

    A bit more research led me to the compilation of facts. The Feist vs Rural supreme court ruling is worth reading about: Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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  • Profile picture of the author Steven Carl Kelly
    Redbeard:

    Thanks. Your link is a good one, it clarifies issues that some others seem to struggle with. Much appreciated.
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