Copyright Question

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  • Hello

    i recently started a business directory and want to know if is against the law to take listings from other directories.

    thank you.
  • Hi,

    Taking factual information from other directories would be legal, so long as the manner in which you present that factual information isn't copied from the other directories as well. Facts can't be copyrighted, but an original way of presenting facts can be. See the Supreme Court decision in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service for further info:


    Quoting from the majority opinion in Feist:
    "The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but '[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.' Art. I, 8, cl. 8. Accord, Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken, 422 U.S. 151, 156 (1975). To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original [499 U.S. 340, 350] expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work. Harper & Row, supra, at 556-557. This principle, known as the idea/expression or fact/expression dichotomy, applies to all works of authorship. As applied to a factual compilation, assuming the absence of original written expression, only the compiler's selection and arrangement may be protected; the raw facts may be copied at will. This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art."

    HOWEVER -- you should also be sure that the directories you are gleaning these facts from aren't governed by any license terms that prohibit you from copying the facts contained in them. This is especially true if the other directories you're consulting are online directories or subscription databases. Such license terms, if enforceable, could make your actions illegal -- or, at least, actionable -- regardless of what the copyright statutes and case law say.
  • thanks a lot, that was very helpful!

    a totally unrelated follow up question.

    i recently compiled a rather large digital collection of 19th century Oil Paintings of Western Masters. Ian Daniels, Isidor Kaufmann, Ivan Shishkin, Il'ya Repin, Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench, Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy ... just to name a few.

    Would it be illigal to post them in the image galery for everybody to see?
  • I am by no means an expert on copyright law for art works or for foreign works -- which can be highly complicated in both cases -- but I'll post a few comments and perhaps someone with more extensive background in this areas will also chime in if necessary.

    When you say you "compiled" a digital collection of oil paintings, what exactly do you mean? Did you take digital photos of the paintings yourself, or have you scanned/digitized images from art books, art slides, or copied the images from the Web? I believe there is some disagreement as to whether a two-dimensional reproduction of a public domain artwork -- a photograph of a Rembrandt painting, for instance -- has the requisite amount of creativity to be copyrightable. But in some cases -- a photo of a sculpture like Michaelangelo's David, for example -- if the reproduction has its own original or interpretive elements (a dramatic camera angle or special lighting), then the reproduction can in fact be copyrighted. So if you have compiled your digital collection by scanning someone else's reproductions, they may or may not be copyrighted works in themselves -- even if the oil painting depicted in the photograph is now in the public domain. And if you have compiled your digital reproductions from a single source, like an art history survey book or a slide set, the compilation may have its own copyright which you'd be infringing by reproducing their selection and presentation of images (as in the business directory question you asked earlier).

    If you took the photographs yourself, you'll need to determine whether the work is truly in the public domain or not. If the painter was born in the late 19th-century he/she may have created the work much later, and it still may be protected by copyright. Click the "Public Domain Chart" link on the home page of this site for more info about what is and isn't in the public domain.

    Finally, in addition to the economic considerations of copyright you need to be mindful of "moral rights" in the artwork. This concept is more fully supported in European law than in U.S. law, but among other things it requires that the creator of a work be properly attributed and that the integrity of the work is not compromised. So, at a minimum, you'd need to be sure you properly cited the creator of each work and that your reproduction in no way distorted or significantly changed the original image. Wikipedia has a nice entry on moral rights: (although there are undoubtedly better places to get more info on this).

    Hope this helps as well...
  • great,

    thanks for your help.
  • Hello,

    I am also publishing a directory and I am not sure that I understand the answer.
    My directory is E-Gun Directory, poster/webmaster input their site description I do not expect or require them to give me exclusive right to their description but I do publish the information they input. Am I the legal copyright holder of the material input by poster or do posters, as authors, remain the legal owner of their writing (description).
    Do I have any legal standing is someone copy the descriptions and publish them.
    Is the description of ones work a factual information.
    What is a factual information?
    Assuming that I am not the copyright holder of the information contain in my directory am I only the copyright owner of the directory taken as a whole.
  • Hi,

    The people who submitted the descriptions to your site own the rights to what they've written, unless they agreed to transfer those rights to you. The only other way in which I could see that you'd personally have a legal claim when a third party reprints those descriptions without your permission is if the people who wrote the descriptions were your employees, which would make the descriptions "works for hire." But that does not seem to be the case here.

    Factual information is just that -- facts, not opinions. For example, the kind of facts you typically see in a directory, like street addresses, phone numbers, number of years a company has been in business, etc. It could also be something like sports statistics -- batting avgs., ERAs, etc. A description of one's web site, such as those presented on your site, can contain factual information, but the description as a whole is more than mere isolated facts.

    You are correct that you are the copyright owner for "the directory as a whole" -- which means primarily the presentation, design, or "look and feel" of your site. For instance, if someone copied your source code and reposted the pages on a different site without your permission they might be (depending on whether the activity was covered by fair use or not) infringing your copyright. (Bear in mind, though, that it's really not uncommon for web site developers to copy design aspects from each other.) They also might be infringing the copyrights to any individual site descriptions that were reposted, but those rights belong to the people who wrote those descriptions, not you. On the other hand, if someone merely copied & pasted the text of the descriptions, they'd be potentially infringing the rights of whoever wrote those words, but you wouldn't have any legal claim that I'm aware of.

    (I suppose if someone reproduced multiple descriptions from your site they might be infringing your rights as well, to the extent that they copied your "selection" of site descriptions. But that might be a reach -- esp. if you don't actively select or omit from among the descriptions submitted to your site.)

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