Re: [R] [OT] Is data copyrightable?

From: Spencer Graves <>
Date: Sat, 12 May 2007 13:23:17 -0700

Dear Hadley:

          P.s. Ben Klemens (2006) Math you can't use (Brookings) cites cases where people have been successfully sued for copyright infringement for using a theorem they independently discovered. That's pretty scary to me and seems totally unreasonable, but apparently the law at least in the US.

          Spencer Graves

      Brian's reply seems more consistent with what I've heard than

      The briefest summary I know of copyright law is that expression but not ideas can be copyrighted. Copyright law exists to promote useful arts, and a compilation of data is intended to be useful. Google, led me to "", says that "data or other materials which (a) are arranged in a systematic or methodical way, or (b) are individually accessible by electronic or other means" can be copyrighted.

      Beyond that, there is a "fair use" doctrine, which in the US at least allows use in many cases by educators in public institutions, but the same use by someone not affiliated with a public school might be an infringement. Ten years ago, I heard from attorneys at the University of Wisconsin that a college prof can run copies of a journal article and distribute them to this class without worrying about copyright infringement (provided any money collected is clearly designed to cover costs not make a profit), but the same copies prepared by Kinko's off campus for the same class (sold perhaps at the same price) must get copyright permission.

      Hope this helps.
      Spencer Graves

Peter Dalgaard wrote:
> hadley wickham wrote:

>> Dear all,
>> This is a little bit off-topic, but I was wondering if anyone has any
>> informed opinion on whether data (ie. a dataset) is copyrightable?
>> Hadley

> In general not, I believe. E.g., I didn't have to ask formal permission
> to use data from Altman's book in mine (and I did check with my
> publisher). I suspect that things can get murkier than that though; I
> seem to recall stories of plagiarism cases in relation to collections of
> mathematical tables. Beware also that there can be other legal
> complications, including rights to first publication of new results,
> which usually implies that you cannot publish entire datasets until
> their publication potential has been exhausted. And of course, proper
> attribution is required for reasons of scientific integrity and general
> courtesy. (Disclaimer: I Am Not A Lawyer, esp. not a US one...)

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> mailing list PLEASE do read the posting guide and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code. Received on Sat 12 May 2007 - 20:38:47 GMT

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