University Libraries Publications


Data and Copyright

Publication Title

Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology

Publication Date


Document Type





copyright, databases


Library and Information Science | Other Legal Studies | Scholarly Communication


Raw data is not open to copyright, but databases, as compilations of data, have been treated differently. Early legal interpretations respected the compiler's work under the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, until the Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that a modicum of creativity was required to earn copyright protection. The Court also ruled the International News Service infringed on the rights of the Associated Press (AP) by telegraphing news gathered by its competitor, and that the AP's work was protected under state law through the “misappropriation doctrine.” The case was the basis of a 1997 case in which the National Basketball Association sued Motorola for transmitting real time game data by pager, making the defendant a competitor in providing the service. Databases must select, coordinate and arrange data with some creativity to earn copyright protection, and database producers use carefully worded contracts to protect their works. Librarians must be aware of copyright and contract details for databases and the scholarly use of data therein.