Myths Regarding Integrating Internet Data Into Applications

Lookin’ for information on a chemical, well there’s a database for that. Looking for barcode information, well there’s a database for that. Lookin’ for a local restaurant, … you get the point. There is a lot of useful published data available on the internet in a convenient format. And there are lot of potential applications out there hoping to make that data even more useful.

In questions/comments after presentations, phone calls, intellectual property inventories, due diligence, and even on the internet (gasp!), I have heard many tales regarding use, reuse, and commercial use of published internet data. Frequently someone asserts that integration of the internet data into an application is a non-issue because it is posted on the internet. Some of the various reasons given include:

  • The data was made available for download.
  • The data was changed by 10/20/30 per cent.
  • The data was posted in XML format.
  • The data was semantically marked.
  • The data was reformatted.
  • The data didn’t have a copyright notice.
  • The creator of the data couldn’t be located.

Generally, a content creator has rights in original works as soon as it is saved. And generally these rights include exclusivity in copying the content, distributing the content, and creating derivatives of the content. In other words, if rights vest, the content creator substantially controls the use of the data. For these reasons the blanket statements above are myths.

It may be that the published internet data may not be be eligible for protection or have a very limited scope of protection. It may also be true that the content creator doesn’t care how the data is used or that it may licensed for commercial use. However, just because data is published on the internet, available for download, or accessible in a convenient format does not in and of itself mean that it is available for use in an application. Not only might the possibly impermissible use lead to the failure of your application, it may lead to liability for copyright infringement or violation of the terms of service. Due diligence should be performed before integrating the published data into an application. You should at least analyze whether the data is subject to copyright, whether there is a fair use of that data, whether it is being used in violation of the terms of service, or whether you are knowingly accepting some risk.

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