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Copyright, Fair Use & Public Domain

Copyright & Data

Data gathered through experiments, research, surveys or other means is not protected by copyright.  According to Copyright Protection Act Section 102(b):

“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”

The Copyright Act interprets data as being already in existence and that researchers are using methods of operation to discover it. Copyright protection only exists for creative works. Data cannot be spontaneously created, so therefore it cannot copyrighted. Similarly, methods used to showcase data such as charts, tables, graphs and certain types of representations are not protected by copyright (Glushko, 2011). The work must have a creative element to it for it to be considered an original work, and subsequently copyrightable. 

Example

Fair use is vitally important to the economy

The raw data depicted in Figure 2 has almost no creative input and the graph's sole purpose is to display data. Alternatively, Figure 1 has a creative spin to it. There are additional images, color, and added information. The infographic seeks to display the importance of fair use and how it relates to the economy and GDP. Figure 2 seeks only to provide a comparison of percentages with no contextual information.  Since additional creative elements were added to Figure 1, it is protected under copyright. Because Figure 2 shows only raw data, it is not considered copyrightable.