Laws Of .com

Extraction of Public Domain Data from a Database Does Not Breach Copyright

In a decision released on November 25, 2003, Posner, a circuit judge for the 7th Circuit, sharply criticized a copyright owner for attempting to prevent the extraction of data from a database.

The case is Assessment Technologies of WI, LLC v. WIREdata Inc. (United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit). AT developed a computer program to store and sort assessment data from municipalities' property tax assessments. AT owned the copyright in that program, known as "Market Drive". The data stored in the program was collected by municipal tax assessors. AT had no involvement in the collection. The information was in the public domain and subject to an "open records" law that allowed anyone to access it on payment of a fee to the municipality. WIREdata, acting on behalf of real estate brokers, extracted and used information about properties that was contained in Market Drive.

The court reviewed the case law in the U.S. on rights in databases and compilations and concluded that there was copyright in the program for sorting and organizing the data but not in the database itself. It examined the arguments in favour of creating a sui generis right for databases that is based on the need to reward compilers of information for the cost and effort of compiling the data. However, in this case AT had not put any effort into the compilation--that work was all done by the municipal tax assessors. Having concluded that the data was in the public domain and that AT could not use its copyright in the Market Drive program to prevent extraction of the data, the court was very critical of AT's conduct, referring to it as an "abuse of process".

For a copy of the decision, visit: