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Lets say we're talking about a list of city names, and one site has all city names listed on separate pages for each state, and so does another - the entire list is in the exact same fashion.
Or another example - a list of known sex offenders in each county of each state is listed on site A, and site B comes along and copies and pastes the same exact list on their site.
Is there legal action to be taken in these cases?
If I were you, just to be sure, I'd look for the root source of the information you want to add to your site. They should be easily accessible from the appropriate .gov websites or even your local public library or precinct. In that manner, you *didn't* copy anything, you researched it.
Another tip is to read the Terms of Service (of the site containing the info) and see if republishing of their content required 'expressed written consent'. If you really can't find it anywhere else, send them a note.
It's called a compilation. As with anything, the specific details of the case determine if a violation has occurred.
Might there be legal ramifications when a site with some content is nearly exatly the same as another's, if that content is free, public information?
If the information is in the public domain then it itself may be reproduced freely. In broad terms, if a third party uses public domain information and lays it out in a unique way, then the creative aspect - the design and layout - may be copyright protected; but not the information itself.
Also, in general terms, a list of facts may not be copyrighted, however, the way it is formatted and presented can (a compilation as mentioned earlier).
[edited by: Syzygy at 11:12 am (utc) on July 18, 2006]