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Data sets, databases, or APIs we can find these days are either licensed openly or commercially. I'm a bit confused as to how the publishers / owners / compilers are rightfully licensing these factual data by their own terms?

I mean, first of all, they are not the creator nor originator of the data. Second of all, the data are almost certainly harvested or collected from public sources such as Internet or government / university or other sources such as users' inputs / contributions, over the years.

This is not to mention that lots of the data sets have repetitive data (same piece of factual data) that are actually licensed under very different terms, which makes the situation even more confusing.

What actually gives someone the right to license factual data under their own terms? How and why someone can govern how a piece of factual data can be used?

My guesses:

  1. It's not the data itself, because nobody can own factual data, right?
  2. But is it the unique structure / organization / compilation of data set / database? So the license is about the particular organization of data. As long as I have a different organization, e.g. from various different sources, or very different tables, columns, names, I can then license my data set / database in my own terms?
  3. Or is it the effort paid to gather / organize the data? So as long as I paid an effort in making the data set different, I'm entitled to license it in my own terms?
  4. Is it the user input / contribution that transfers the right to the website / company that they are contributing to? When a user contributes some local business contact information to a website, does it give the website the right to license this data in their own terms?

Why should I follow some data license that disallows me to use the factual data (such as Earth parameters, birthday of Elvis, etc.) commercially?

Update (of some examples)

For instance, a hotels booking website clearly states in the terms that they disallow any usage of their hotel listings for commercial purposes other than on their website. But why should I follow it? Do they own the hotels information such as title, phone number, address, website URL, etc.? If not, why should I follow the terms?

A similar example is IMDB. They definitely wouldn't allow commercial purposes regarding their movie data (factual data, title, date, names, etc., not creative texts / descriptions, etc.), but why should I follow the terms if they don't own the data? Especially if I'm not blatantly copying the entire database exactly as is on a grand scale, just some of its data remixed / rearranged with movie data from other sources.

Another example is data on Freebase, Dbpedia, and Wikidata. They disallow commercial purposes and mandates that I share-alike the data openly without charging people. But why should I follow the terms? Can't I do business and profit from these data if I can? Because open and free is not always the answer in a business world, otherwise Linux would be the most popular OS.

Sui generis database right

What makes up the Sui generis database right? I read the Wikipedia article and yes database has rights in the EU and UK but what kind of databases?

If I gathered data from dozens or hundreds of different databases (each of their own Sui generis rights) and made 'substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents' of the database, remixing and rearranging the original data so they become better categorized / indexed and more searchable / traversable, do I have my own Sui generis rights to this new and much bigger database with the same factual data?

  • I guess what you write in 1. contains the solution. If someone takes a measure of something you can either use her data and obey the rules she attaches to it or you can take your own measurements. Thereby you could however face other constraints. – sheß Sep 3 '15 at 17:51
  • @sheß What do you mean by measurement? – datasn.io Sep 4 '15 at 2:39
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    Most data are measurements of *something*(or is this the wrong word? May be to narrow). What I mean is, somebody could've measured the Earth's circumference and licenses and sells that information, but certainly won't have the right to licence the Earth's circumference itself. Basically I'm just saying "Yes" to your questions (1)-(3) – sheß Sep 4 '15 at 7:40
  • With your latest edits, your question now is a) too broad, b) factually wrong (share-alike does not disallow commercial use; please read up on that) and c) boils down to "why is there a copyright for databases?", for which the answer simply is: because they were passed as laws. – ojdo Sep 7 '15 at 10:17
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Literal answer

The Sui generis database right. It is a property right granted in several countries to creators, compilers or curators of databases.

Prose answer

To address your single points, here have some more text.

  1. Owning factual data: Probably not possible.
  2. License based on structure: yes, but for that, you must first have used suitables data sources yourself. That means, each provider must have granted you the right to redistribute your data under your license of choice. Note that specificially open data licenses like the ODbL assure that redistribution must happen openly (like the GPL does for code).
  3. License based on effort: that depends on the country. As far as I understand it, different legislation put more or less emphasis on the effort VS structure part of a dataset.
  4. User input: yes, because such forms usually prompt the user also give an explicit permission to the website owner to use the contact information at their own discretion.

Your "Can I" questions?

Read the license terms of the sources you listed. They all have different licenses, and each of them state explicitely whether you may scrape, download and redistribute them. I strongly assume for example that you may not re-publish IMDB data, though I have not checked their terms.

Closing remark: fewer questions per question make it easier to answer. If you want more in-depth answers for specific aspects, I think it is a good idea to re-post them as self contained questions.

  • Thanks. I just updated the "Can I" section. I didn't mean to ask whether I can do this or that since I can just look at the terms for the answer. What I mean to ask is why I must follow the terms as the data are all factual. If IMDB doesn't own the facts, why can they govern how I use them from their website? – datasn.io Sep 4 '15 at 15:47
  • What makes up the Sui generis rights? I read the Wikipedia article and yes database has rights in the EU and UK but what kind of databases? If I gathered data from dozens or hundreds of different databases (each of their own Sui generis rights) and made 'substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents' of the database, remixing and rearranging the original data so they become better categorized / indexed and more searchable / traversable, do I have my own Sui generis rights to this new and much bigger database? – datasn.io Sep 4 '15 at 16:10
  • What do you mean by "suitables data sources"? – datasn.io Sep 4 '15 at 16:15
3

A warning: Professional distributors of factual databases often sneek in some test data that are pure fake to check whether their databases are illegally scraped.

When your database contains such kind of data, you are in trouble to explain where you got them from.

  • Thanks for the tip but I'm not asking how to avoid being caught but about why I should be held responsible in the first place. What gives them the right to govern how the factual data on their website should be used? – datasn.io Sep 4 '15 at 15:48
  • @kavoir.com "What gives them the right to govern how the factual data on their website should be used?" This question is already answered by ojdo. – jknappen - Reinstate Monica Sep 4 '15 at 15:51
  • That is interesting @jknappen, could you give an example that one knows of? – sheß Sep 5 '15 at 10:51
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    @sheß The German Medical Dictionary Pzyrembel contains the Lemma Steinlaus (now also famous as a scientific hoax). The ABC Guide to London by Chas. Baker & Co. Ltd. contains some non-existent streets. Address databases that you can licence for marketing purposes contain test addresses. Etc. – jknappen - Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '15 at 8:30

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