[sword-devel] Re: Copyright and STRONGS

Andrew Cogan sword-devel@crosswire.org
Wed, 5 Jul 2000 11:20:20 -0700

> In the United States, a telephone company tried suing a publisher who
> exactly their phone book and sold it. They lost in court, and the judge
> specifically said that the time involved was irrelevant -- it was a
> list of names and numbers, and was not at all creative -- simply in
> alphabetical order.

This is a very complex area. You are probably citing a case involving the
"white pages," which is a strictly alphabetical listing. But I know of
another case in the U.S. that reached exactly the OPPOSITE conclusion. This
involved the "Yellow Pages" which list businesses grouped by category. The
court held that while the information regarding each individual entry (the
business name, address, and phone number) was not copyrightable, the
telephone company DID own the classification system.

> And it is relevant, since the Online Bible asserts copyright ownership of
> the Strong's numbers keyed into the KJV text which SWORD uses

They're not the only ones. Dr. Ellis of Ellis Enterprises actually asserts
that Larry Pierce (of Online Bible) is infringing on HIS copyrights.

By the way, copyright isn't the sole dimension of risk in this area. If you
take an e-text that is based upon a work in the public domain, but which
represents a significant effort in the form of scanning, OCR, and tagging,
you can be sued for unfair business practices. I'm not a lawyer, but my
understanding is that this is an even murkier area in many respects than
copyright law since you don't have to prove creative effort, just work. I
believe this is the legal grounds that eBay recently used to stop another
auction site from "spidering" its listings. The information the smaller
company was sucking into its database is available to anyone with a browser,
so it's not a trade secret, nor is it an issue of copyright. Yet eBay won
because the smaller company was essentially stealing the work that eBay had

The lesson is that you should not assume through your own understanding of
the law that you are safe from action when you take someone else's e-text,
even one that clearly states that it is in the public domain (because they
may have based their e-text on someone else's e-text). Check with a good
intellectual property attorney first. Not that even then will you feel
perfectly safe; after consulting with 2 IP lawyers you'll end up with at
least 3 opinions! The ONLY completely safe way is to start from scratch with
a known PD print edition of a book, and OCR and tag it yourself. Beyond
that, you're exposing yourself to risk.