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I'm working on a project that uses a dataset produced from software informally licensed as "non-commercial use only". I'm developing an application that uses that dataset as an input to another algorithm. Our own software has a permissive free software license in which we don't restrict commercial usage.

Are there legal implications of using that dataset in our own software in the sense that we are violating a copyright?

Edit: Thanks folks, the ask a lawyer thing is the way to go, but its helpful for me to hear some opinions bounce around.

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3 Answers 3

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In the US, datasets are not patentable. They are, though, covered by copyright. I believe the extent of such depends on the nature of the collection (is it lists of facts, or lists of data someone created) and what you are doing with it. So you'd want to present your attorney with the exact nature of your data set and have them advise based on that. There was a US Supreme Court case known as Feist, that dealt with exactly the parameter under which collections are covered by copyright.

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Are datasets copyrightable? I thought that mere facts couldn't be copyrighted. –  Bruce Ediger Jun 28 '11 at 20:38
    
@Bruce: At least in the US, you're entirely correct. See Feist Publications vs. Rural Telephone Service. Feist definitely copied data from Rural Telephone (definite because the copy included some fictitious entries), but was still (eventually) found not-guilty of infringement (but only by the Supreme Court, after the district court and the appeals court said they were guilty). –  Jerry Coffin Jun 28 '11 at 20:52
    
@Bruce, facts themselves arent copyrightable. But the expression of the list itself might be, depending, as I mentioned, on the nature of the list. Something like a list of the top hotels in Europe might be provided copyright protection since it was compiled with considerable editorial effort. –  GrandmasterB Jun 28 '11 at 21:16

From what I gather, the software you used was was "non-commercial use only" and not the dataset. Since you are giving the dataset away for free, I wouldn't really call that commercial use. That being said, this is one of those things that it is better to ask an IP lawyer about.

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I think you're asking the wrong people.

The only valid answer is: ask an attorney.

Make sure he knows a thing or two about international IP laws, too - things are different on each side of the Atlantic.

And if it comes to it, having a corporation in China or Nigeria or what not with a giant "Sue Me" sign on the front door occasionally helps too.

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I know it's a joke, but I can't parse out your last sentence. Why would a foreign corporation with a "sue me" sign help anything? –  Rich Jun 28 '11 at 18:59
    
Actually, it's not a joke at all. Many 3rd world countries have the interesting side effect of being tax havens (Panama, Belize). Others (China) don't give the slightest damn about international IP "laws". And others still (Nigeria) have judges who can always "arrange" things if you know the right people. Don't go there if you're not familiar with this stuff, but do know it exists in case you ever need it. –  Denis de Bernardy Jun 28 '11 at 19:08

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