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Should freedb's Data Be Public Domain? 210

Posted by Cliff
from the cd-information-wants-to-be-free dept.
Horar asks: "There's been a lot of recent fuss over freedb. My position is that freedb was just not free enough, and I would like to find a way to bring all the data into the public domain, just as MusicBrainz has done with much of their data. I had not thought that this would be possible until I received advice from various parties suggesting that it was. So now I ask Slashdot if this is true? Can the freedb data legally be brought into the public domain at this time, and if so how? Most importantly, would it be 'The Right Thing To Do'?"
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Should freedb's Data Be Public Domain?

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  • Why ask slashdot? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Umbral Blot (737704) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:49PM (#15726742) Homepage
    Good Idea: asking a lawyer for legal advice
    Bad Idea: asking /. for legal advice
  • What freedb is.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:49PM (#15726745)
    Here's the wikipedia link..
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedb [wikipedia.org]

  • My position... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:53PM (#15726763)
    FWIW, my position is that I felt really F'd over, years ago when CDDB decided to start selling the info I had helped them collect. I thought the whole idea of FreeDB was to correct the mistakes of the past so that this could never be done again.

    So yeah, I think this data should be public domain, and I'm not entirely convinced that databases-- collections of facts-- should be able to be protected as intellectual property at all.
    • FWIW, my position is that I felt really F'd over, years ago when CDDB decided to start selling the info I had helped them collect.

      Yes, we all put more effort into IMDB at that point. Did we learn anything? NO! :)

    • FWIW, my position is that I felt really F'd over, years ago when CDDB decided to start selling the info I had helped them collect. I thought the whole idea of FreeDB was to correct the mistakes of the past so that this could never be done again.

      So yeah, I think this data should be public domain...

      The data being public domain is what allowed cddb.com to get away with what they did. There is a good reason why the freedb project chose to license their database under the GPL.

  • by BVis (267028) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:54PM (#15726771)
    The RIAA will soon assert that the information is their IP and therefore using FreeDB will give them all the information they need to sue you.

    And in this country you can sue anyone for anything, provided you can pay for your lawyers' fees. In the RIAA's case, they're betting (usually correctly, by making sure they sue people who can't afford to defend themselves) that you can't, and therefore will have to do whatever they demand.
  • Data is GPL (Score:5, Informative)

    by Baricom (763970) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @11:01PM (#15726791)
    Note: I am most certainly not a lawyer.

    freedb.org claims the data is licensed [freedb.org] under the GPL; therefore, you should have the right to distribute it as you see fit, provided you comply with the GPL.

    As far as whether you can free it from the GPL, I believe the answer is no. While the data is arguably merely facts, and therefore not protected by copyright law, I think there was a copyright amendment recently that made a particular compilation of data subject to copyright. I don't know whether it passed or not.

    Here's the Slashdot article [slashdot.org] on the subject. Unfortunately, TFA it links to is gone.
    • I'm pretty sure you could free it if you got permission from each and every content submitter. Not that that's possible or anything.
      • Depends who owns the copyright. If it's stated that you assign copyright to FreeDB, they could simply dual license it, which would effectively make the GPL null and void as the public domain version would let you do anything with it.
    • by jimwelch (309748) <jimwelchok.gmail@com> on Saturday July 15, 2006 @11:25PM (#15726842) Homepage Journal
      If you "place" it into the Public Domain, no one may control it. This means a proprietary program may use it and extended it, and restrict it use like cddb.com !!! See wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain [wikipedia.org]
    • I'd have to wonder whether one can exert a copyright to data you found as part of other people's products. If anyone can own the rights to that information, wouldn't it be the owners of those products?
    • Re:Data is GPL (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Raul654 (453029) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @11:47PM (#15726898) Homepage
      "As far as whether you can free it from the GPL, I believe the answer is no. While the data is arguably merely facts, and therefore not protected by copyright law, I think there was a copyright amendment recently that made a particular compilation of data subject to copyright." - I am not a lawyer either, but I think I can help you out. Copyright law protection compilations where subjective taste is used to distinguish what gets included from what does not. I believe this was the distinction the Surpreme court used in Feist V Rural to determine that anthologies (the "The best of Edgar Allan Poe", for example) are protected by copyright, whereas complications of data that have no subjective criteria for inclusion (the phone book, in that particular case) are not subject to protection. In this case, I suspect they will take any CD's data; meaning that there is no subjective critera for inclusion, meaning that no copyright can be applied.

      • Re:Data is GPL (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        To add another twist on that, it was ruled long, long ago that maps were not copyrightable since they were simply facts. However, map makers began introducing deliberate errors into their maps. The courts ruled that the deliberate errors were copyrightable. Thus anyone who copied the errors from the map were violating the copyright. On the other hand, I believe the court ruled that error in a phone book were not copyrightable.
        • Got a citation for this?

          Maps have always been copyrightable in the US, partially on their artistic value, and partially because they're selective as to which facts they include and arrange.

          But false or erroneous facts and theories which are presented as true are treated as facts and are uncopyrightable. There are cases to this effect, such as Nash v. CBS, but I've never heard of anything to the contrary.

          The reason that authors will sometimes introduce unique errors is not to manufacture grounds for infringe
          • But false or erroneous facts and theories which are presented as true are treated as facts and are uncopyrightable.

            Cool, so no one can come after me for copying Slashdot comments then!

            • Re:Data is GPL (Score:3, Insightful)

              by julesh (229690)
              False or erroneous facts might not be copyrightable, but an expression of them (e.g. a Slashdot comment) is.

              Noone can come after you for paraphrasing Slashdot comments.
        • To add another twist on that, it was ruled long, long ago that maps were not copyrightable since they were simply facts.

          Maps are not "simply facts". Compare several maps of the same area and you'll see great variety in the representaton of these "facts": in terms of use of colour, hatching, fonts, etc. So a map is certainly a creative work and thus copyrightable. You often see a copyright notice in editions of classic (public domain) books. But if they're honest, the copyright is limited to their specific

      • Just to clarify a bit, the creative part is the selection and arrangement of uncopyrightable facts in the compilation. Uncreative selection (such as the name, address, and number of all phone subscribers in an area) and arrangement (alphabetical order by last name) was unprotectable in Fiest.
      • Copyright law protection compilations where subjective taste is used to distinguish what gets included from what does not.

        The water is somewhat muddied by the existence of Database Rights [wikipedia.org] if you're operating in the EU. I believe the US senate has discussed legislation that would create a similar right there, but I don't think it has happened yet.

        This database would be covered by that right:

        To qualify for the sui generis database protection, the creator of the database must show that there has been qualitat

  • by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Saturday July 15, 2006 @11:50PM (#15726909)
    They supply copies of their databases via BitTorrent - http://tracker.freedb.org/ [freedb.org]

    (which arguably is more valuable than the server side software).
  • Already Is? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dreamword (197858) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @12:53AM (#15727012) Homepage
    First, it looks like the database files are already GPL'd. I'm not sure what you would want to do with the data that isn't allowed by the GPL.

    Second, if you want to do something with the database that isn't allowed by the GPL (however the GPL applies to databases), you might want to ask your lawyer whether the freedb database files contain any copyrightable expression, given that the titles themselves are not copyrightable and much of their arrangement may be functional. I haven't looked closely at the files, but it would be worth investigating if for some reason you really wanted to make a derivative work of the database files without GPLing the result.

    IAAL, but this is definitely not legal advice.
    • First, it looks like the database files are already GPL'd. I'm not sure what you would want to do with the data that isn't allowed by the GPL.

      The article author is probably connected in some way to the idiot who was working on the new version of freedb but decided to keep his source to himself. My guess is that he wants to repeat what happened with cddb - take freedb and make it his own. Luckily the authors of freedb learned from the cddb experience, and licensed their database under the GPL to prevent

    • you might want to ask your lawyer whether the freedb database files contain any copyrightable expression, given that the titles themselves are not copyrightable and much of their arrangement may be functional.

      You might also want to ask him whether or not you could be affected by the European Database Right, which almost certainly does cover this database. If he doesn't know, get a lawyer in Europe, too, assuming you'll be distributing your copy of the database to Europe.

  • by Matt Perry (793115) <perry.matt54@NoSpam.yahoo.com> on Sunday July 16, 2006 @01:05AM (#15727022)
    Considering the poor state of many of the Freedb entries, is that data really useful? I've been volunteering with the MusicBrainz [musicbrainz.org] project since October and I've found the data at Freedb to be a complete mess. MusicBrainz users can use Freedb to import albums so that we don't have to re-enter things into MusicBrainz by hand, but with so many duplicate and poorly edited entries (typos, etc) I'm wondering if it's worth it to even keep the data.

    MusicBrainz is a better designed system. It's not limited to the archaic interface and design of the old CDDB system. It has interfaces that programmers can use [musicbrainz.org] to retrieve the same kind of data that they get from Freedb. The site also has a system in place for editing of entries and peer review of changes. I think it's a better solution, although I'm biased because of my involvement and interest with the project.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 16, 2006 @02:03AM (#15727126)
    Since Slashdot users aren't lawyers, here are some selected sections from Feist, the most prominent on-topic case on this issue, decided by the Supreme Court holding that telephone book was not copyrightable. The CDDB and FreeDB databases are very similar to the telephone books in Feist: a compilation of facts, no selection criteria (anything they get, they put in, it's not a database of someone's subjective evaluation of the best CDs), no originality in arrangement.

    The more interesting issue is to what extent contracts can modify the background rules of copyright and allow someone to exert copyright-like control over non-copyrightable works. See ProCD. Since the GPL purports to be a license, rather than a contract, it is only enforceable if the underlying work is copyrightable.

    FEIST PUBLICATIONS, INC. v. RURAL TELEPHONE SERVICE CO., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)

    [11] Originality is a constitutional requirement. The source of Congress' power to enact copyright laws is Article I, 8, cl. 8, of the Constitution, which authorizes Congress to "secure for limited Times to Authors . . . the exclusive Right to their respective Writings." In two decisions from the late 19th Century -- The Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U.S. 82 (1879); and Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53 (1884) -- this Court defined the crucial terms "authors" and "writings." In so doing, the Court made it unmistakably clear that these terms presuppose a degree of originality.

    [16]Factual compilations, on the other hand, may possess the requisite originality. The compilation author typically chooses which facts to include, in what order to place them, and how to arrange the collected data so that they may be used effectively by readers. These choices as to selection and arrangement, so long as they are made independently by the compiler and entail a minimal degree of creativity, are sufficiently original that Congress may protect such compilations through the copyright laws. Nimmer 2.11[D], 3.03; Denicola 523, n. 38. Thus, even a directory that contains absolutely no protectible written expression, only facts, meets the constitutional minimum for copyright protection if it features an original selection or arrangement.

    [17] This protection is subject to an important limitation. The mere fact that a work is copyrighted does not mean that every element of the work may be protected. Originality remains the sine qua non of copyright; accordingly, copyright protection may extend only to those components of a work that are original to the author. Patterson & Joyce 800-802; Ginsburg, Creation and Commercial Value: Copyright Protection of Works of Information, 90 Colum. L. Rev. 1865, 1868, and n. 12 (1990) (hereinafter Ginsburg). Thus, if the compilation author clothes facts with an original collocation of words, he or she may be able to claim a copyright in this written expression. Others may copy the underlying facts from the publication, but not the precise words used to present them. In Harper & Row, for example, we explained that President Ford could not prevent others from copying bare historical facts from his autobiography, see 471 U.S., at 556-557, but that he could prevent others from copying his "subjective descriptions and portraits of public figures." [p*349] Id., at 563. Where the compilation author adds no written expression but rather lets the facts speak for themselves, the expressive element is more elusive. The only conceivable expression is the manner in which the compiler has selected and arranged the facts. Thus, if the selection and arrangement are original, these elements of the work are eligible for copyright protection. See Patry, Copyright in Compilations of Facts (or Why the "White Pages" Are Not Copyrightable), 12 Com. & Law 37, 64 (Dec. 1990) (hereinafter Patry). No matter how original the format, however, the facts themselves do not become original through association. See Patterson & Joyce 776.

    [18] This inevitably means that the copyri
  • Wikipedia needs a database of stuff like that. Wikipedia is full of album and artist articles, but they're not organized in a useful way.
  • by ballermann (124688) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @03:57AM (#15727326) Homepage
    Please note that Horar (the submitter) is the one who effectivly let freedb.org die. He worked with them for two years but didn't release any useful code. Now he is activly promoting his own project freedb2.org, promising to release the source but it is still not available.

    I wonder why he should care about the data not being public domain, if his software is to be supposed GPL licensed? Unless well... think for your self.

    I can't belive he just got more advertising on slashdot.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 16, 2006 @05:05AM (#15727415)
      You are totally right. He's clearly managed to destroy cooperation within FreeDB, set the contributors against each other, and now it looks like he's planning to rip off the whole contribution. Something has to be done to stop it. I've contributed to FreeDB; My entries involved careful choice and selection of how to lay out and present the titles. I believe that they are copyright protectable and they were put in purely on the GPL License.

      Further, I believe that the heavy level of mistakes and different representations of the same data in the FreeDB database actually helps us in this case. It's clearly an original work and not just a factual representation.

      I'd like to get a group of people in a similar situation together to put up a class action suit against Horar. The primary aim will be to restrain him from further license infringement, but I'll put any money recovered from damages awarded towards

      We'd need
      * some money
      * a lawyer
      * a good place to organise.

      To begin with, we'd try to get him to settle out of court; something like
      * ceases to work on FreeDB2 or any related projects
      * pays some compensation to the FreeDB project people

      But we would have to be willing to go the whole way. Who would be up for joining? Can anyone set up a site for this. It would be a good chance to test the limits of copyright and also to set an example of GPL enforcement.
      • You are suggesting a solution to a technical problem that relies upon wasting large quantities of money by feeding it to lawyers. If you were a corporation, slashdot users would mock you openly for doing such a thing.

        Every minute spent talking about who's at fault and who to sue should be put toward coming up with a better solution to the CD data issue. Since the users of freedb are skewed heavily toward high levels of geekiness, all it should take to cripple Horar's efforts is a better answer to the prob
    • profit by freedb (Score:5, Insightful)

      by freqmod (793244) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @05:22AM (#15727430)
      1. Get an agreement to write code for freedb
      2. Don't release the source code
      3. Let the admins of freedb quit
      4. Make the freedb contents public domain
      5. Incoperate the public domain code in a new (closed) solution
      6. ?????
      7. Profit!
    • That's a pretty strong accusation. Where's your proof?
    • by Horar (521864) <{ua.di.htimsa} {ta} {todhsals}> on Sunday July 16, 2006 @12:13PM (#15728427) Homepage
      The original question was put to slashdot a couple of weeks ago and in the interests of openness I mentioned the website in my submission. The slashdot editors quite wisely held the article for two weeks and have now posted it with all references to my controversial domain removed. Now thanks to you, I just got more advertising on slashdot.

      For what it's worth I'm maintaining a news page on the site which shall not be named, and if you have a genuine interest in what is going on, please read that or contact me directly.
  • by matt me (850665) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @06:03AM (#15727486)
    I'm certain, in the US, at least, there was a case that set a precedent on this sort of data collection. Not long after the man who made the first telephone directory did so (yes he had to call *everyone* to get it), a second lazier man made his own, copying the numbers from the first directory. The first man accused the second of this, taking his ass to court on copyright infringement. The verdict: The court ruled you couldn't own the truth, the information had always existed. The first man had collected it, but he hadn't *created* it, so he couldn't enforce copyright. Copyright applies to works of art, not to facts. . The source of information was irrelevant, if you ignore typesetting etc..

    No-one does own the data on freedb. Sure it's now avaliable through many sources, freedb, cddb, Wikipedia, but most importantly it's on the CD. When a CD is released, that data is made public. It doesn't hold significance, it's for reference. freedb don't own it, nor do the record companies. 'Public domain' doesn't even apply, it's not a work of art under threat of imitation. just another catalogue of factual data, like a reference of the colours of common objects. And the truth is everyone's.
    • No-one does own the data on freedb...When a CD is released, that data is made public.

      The only information on the CD itself that's included in freedb is a list of tracks and where they are located on the disc. All of the other information, including artist, song titles, etc. has all been typed by a person and inserted into the database. That's the important data, and it's been inserted into the database via a GPL license--which is not the same as being public.
  • by Cyborg00_ (738377) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @09:16AM (#15727874)
    Hi, I was running a freedb mirror for a few years, and had lots of contacts with the team during that period. The demise of freedb was not a pleasant surprise for me. I also must admit that it was the first time that the nickname Kaiser has shown up anywhere for me. I also submitted over 1000 entries over the last few years, mainly for local artists.

    I am a bit surprised of the discussion I see here. I fail to see the added-value to anyone of putting the database in the free domain. In my opinion, the only ones who would gain from this are the commercial services like Gracenote (remember that their data used to be free as well), who could integrate it in their engine without giving anything back. I also have the feeling that it will spur a serie of clones, some free, some not, which will grow their own database, probably without sharing that with the others (and with a big fat EULA).

    The principal strenghts of freedb are the size of it's database, and it's licence. I do think that a large part of the reason why it got as big, is because of it's licence. Also the commitment that the GPL gives, that is to make sure that any modification stays under the GPL, is great for a database, as it ensures that any update stays open.

    For those reasons, i DO NOT agree that my efforts ne put in the public domain.
    • The main point of this discussion is the fact that it doesn't matter what you believe.

      It doesn't matter whether the data is said to be licensed under the GPL or not.

      An initial look at it says the data is just that, data, and therefor cannot be copyrighted; if it cannot be copyrighted then the 'license' doesn't actually apply.

      Whether you want it to or not.

      (I am not a lawyer).
      • IANAL, but I am always right nevertheless. ;)

        Okay, let us discuss if the database is copyrightable in the USA, Australia, Canada and the European Union for the hell of it.

        First of all, USA. Oh boy, this will be the most controversial passage. It seems that there's a strange consensus that the Feist Publications Inc. vs. Rural Telephone Service Co Inc. case automagically means that freedb is not copyrightable in the US. I argue it _is_ due to several factors, such as originality and innovativity in the way d

        • The code to generate the DiscID is copyrighted. The algorithm cannot be copyrighted, or patented. (inspite of the attempt of Gracenote to enforce a patent they seem to have acquired on it several years after it was public knowledge; publication which makes it unpatentable in any jurisdiction anyway).

          The algorithm itself has been well publicized and is required by all client software to make use of the database. Personally I implemented a version of it several years ago in Java.

          Had the DiscID been treated as
  • As that will make it able to be hijacked as what had happened to cddb earlier.

  • The problem is that according to opinions I've been given, the GPL never could be applied to the particular case of the freedb data owing to the nature of it. That would mean that people have been submitting data for six years in the mistaken belief that their efforts were being protected from the big bad corporations somehow. If freedb.org has been a big fat lie all this time, wouldn't it be nice to clear that up?

    BTW Don't confuse the freedb data with the freedb server software. They are different animals

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