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Copyright and Intellectual Property of Data

Copyright as it applies to data can be very complex. The information on this page is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as definitive. If you are at all uncertain as to your specific rights, researchers are advised to seek counsel.


Some general guidelines:

  • Data cannot be copyrighted, but a particular expression of data (e.g. graph, chart) can be. These expressions generally fall under the same guidelines as copyright protection for literature.

    • Although the expression may be copyrighted, the underlying data is still not protected.
  • As with any copyright, copyright for data varies from country to country.
  • A Creative Commons license can be attached to your data to explicitly promote sharing and unlimited use.

    Data from other sources:

  • Original Data

    • Be aware of any restrictions or licensing issues with any third-party original data that you are using.
    • If there is any question about your ability to use or reproduce data, contact the owner and/or publisher of the data.
  • Databases

    • As defined by the US Copyright Office, a "database" is compilation - "a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data." 17 U.S.C. 101
    • A database can be copyrighted if the compilation is sufficiently original. For example, the US Supreme Court decided in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co.(1991) that the information contained in telephone directory white pages is not copyrightable due to the lack of originality in the compilation, selection or arrangement. However, in a decision by the US Second Circuit appeals court in Key Publications, Inc. v. Chinatown Today Publishing Enterprises Inc. (1991), yellow pages listings do show sufficient originality to be copyrighted.

Additional resources: