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Copyright Issues in Using Facts from a book

     
2:28 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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If I were to use some content retrieved from a book on my site;
would I be at risk if I were to clearly state were the facts came from?
2:36 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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You can't copyright a fact as such (for example "King George IV died on June 26, 1830"); however, an author's particular discussion of a fact is of course protected by copyright just as any other original work.

I don't think anyone has ever justified copying even a paragraph from somebody else's work and placing it on a website as "fair use" (the grounds under which you do not need to obtain permission); so I would argue that to be sure you should contact the author / publisher and seek permission. Tell them that you intend to give a full accreditation alongside the content you wish to use.

3:12 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Thinking about this; does anybody know the legalities around using the results of studies / research; since the findings of research are strictly speaking "facts".

For example; Gartner Group frequently publish reports containing the results of surveys and research, for example "40% of sick days are taken on Monday's and Friday's".

Are these "facts" now in the public domain and can be used freely without reference / accreditation to Gartner?

3:20 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Are these "facts" now in the public domain and can be used freely without reference / accreditation to Gartner?

This is exactly what I mean - I not sure?

3:41 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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If you really want to get heavily into it then:

[fairuse.stanford.edu...]

3:57 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the excellent link, ytswy!

The Stanford Libraries use Google for their site search (I wonder why that does not surprise me :) ) and a quick site search for "facts" led me to the Copyright Basics FAQ [fairuse.stanford.edu] which conclusively answer's dmorison's question.

4:22 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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> Are these "facts" now in the public domain and can be used freely without reference / accreditation to Gartner?

No, you can't use these "facts" without attributing them to the source. In this case, the research firm paid a lot of money to do that research, they used their methodology, their sampling, their survey and their time - so consequently, those research results are owned by them.

4:31 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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No, you can't use these "facts" without attributing them to the source. In this case, the research firm paid a lot of money to do that research, they used their methodology, their sampling, their survey and their time - so consequently, those research results are owned by them.

But it is nothing that you could not find out by doing your own research; and nobody can prove that you haven't...

Or to look at it yet another way; you could say that it took many universities and scientific research establishments many years and thousands of dollars to discover that a single molecule of water consists of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom - yet there is nothing to prevent you from stating that fact on a website. So what is the difference between the chemical composition of water and a fact published in a Gartner report?

[edited by: dmorison at 4:44 pm (utc) on Oct. 7, 2003]

4:39 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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But it is nothing that you could not find out by doing your own research; and nobody can prove that you haven't...

You just have to hope that they got their facts right, otherwise it may be noticed that you copied them. ;)
4:43 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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You just have to hope that they got their facts right, otherwise it may be noticed that you copied them. ;)

Absolutely! It is well known that map publishers include errors on purpose to "fingerprint" their maps...

4:49 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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No, you can't use these "facts" without attributing them to the source.

In the U.S., that statement can be used without citing the source. It doesn't matter how much was invested to uncover that fact. However, I think it's smart to cite sources in studies/research because they only look at a subset of information and draw a conclusion. Someone else could take a different sampling and come to a totally different one.

What really does people in when they use material created by someone else is that they don't use their own words but instead copy it. That is what infringes on the copyright unless they can fall under "fair use".

5:03 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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The problem is, those types of research results are not necessarily "facts."

The way a research firm phrases questions and orders those questions makes a difference in the results.

The type of sample a research firm chooses to use makes a difference in the results.

The size of sample a research firm chooses to use makes a difference in the results.

The type of survey instrument a research firm chooses (online, paper & pencil, phone interview, etc.) makes a difference in the results.

If three different research firms survey to find out: "The percentage of female Californians who support Arnold Schwarzzeneger for Governor" - they will get three different sets of results.

If three different chemists study to find out the number of hydrogen atoms in a molecule of water, they'll get the same result three times.

Social research, although scientific in nature, is not scientific. So the "facts" that social researchers come up with, as fantastic as they are, are not generally used in the same way.

5:12 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Sigh ...

Nobody seems to have followed the link that I gave, so I will quote the relevant text:

For similar reasons, copyright does not protect facts -- whether scientific, historical, biographical or news of the day. Any facts that an author discovers in the course of research are in the public domain, free to all. For instance, anyone is free to use information included in a book about how the brain works, an article about the life and times of Neanderthals or a TV documentary about the childhood of President Clinton -- provided that that they express the information in their own words.

Ed note: See the site for further details

The Neanderthals example seems to me to carry over, word for word, to the Gartner example.

It is the specific words that are protected by copyright, not the facts behind the words.

[edited by: engine at 7:54 pm (utc) on Oct. 7, 2003]
[edit reason] edited [/edit]

5:27 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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The question becomes what are "facts"...if Gartner found 40% of sick days are on Monday and Friday then it probably means that they studied people who actually work during a regular work week monday to friday....if they did a study of part-time weekend shift workers they might have "facts" that say that most sick days occur saturday and sunday. Facts should be assigned a source so when they are proven to be wrong you are off the hook. If appreciate hearing what the sources are to any facts and if I see information that has no source I tend to look at it as suspect or just someone's opinion or someone trying to pass off someone elses work as their own. I could go to a small village in Madagascar where they have never heard pop music and start playing beatles songs on my guitar and if I didn't tell anyone they were written by the beatles I would be passing myself and my talents off as something they weren't. My view is to always give credit to the source because I don't want anything of mine used without the respect it deserves.
5:35 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Sigh ...

Nobody seems to have followed the link that I gave

Hee! I followed it, don't worry.

But I'm questioning whether survey research results are "facts."

They're not "scientific, historical, biographical or news of the day" (from your quote from the link you gave) ... so are they facts? I feel the need to go dig around more and find out.

I can think of instances where they are used as such - but I can also think of instances where they are not. I'm off to dig around some more. ;)

5:56 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I think you are confusing plagerism with copyrighted information. Plagerism is when you don't source a documented fact (research or not). If you are citing the results of a study (such as a pyschological one) in an argument that you are making, you are still citing "fact" (fact as in the researcher discovered that one in 10 people prefer vanilla coke to vanilla pepsi). I think though, you would be on the safe side to go ahead and cite your source, as is indicated in the post above, so that your own information is given a bit of "validity".

Ed

5:59 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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The problem is, those types of research results are not necessarily "facts."

Yes, I understand but they are presented as facts. That's why I said it's smart to quote the source on studies/research because different people can and often do come up with different conclusions. This also happens quite often in scientific research. Scientists will spend years and years and years studying things coming up with facts, shooting them down, repeat the cycle. Then after a period of time the final version becomes set in stone as being the absolute truth. Well, at least until someone else is able to disprove it. Look how long everyone believed the world was flat only to have this "fact" turn into fiction with further research.

For copyright purposes, you can use their facts. You cannot use their words though without giving them credit. In some cases, compilation of facts can be copyrighted as well.

I could go to a small village in Madagascar where they have never heard pop music and start playing beatles songs on my guitar and if I didn't tell anyone they were written by the beatles I would be passing myself and my talents off as something they weren't.

That's different than a fact. In this scenario, you're trying to pass off someone else's work as your own. You can take the underlying ideas in their songs and write your own.
6:18 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I think you are confusing plagerism with copyrighted information. Plagerism is when you don't source a documented fact (research or not).

Plagarism is where you take someone else's words or ideas and present them as your own. As long as "40% of sick days are taken on Monday's and Friday's" is in your own words, it's not plagarism since this is a fact and not an idea.
6:57 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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At my job, we deal with publishing medical studies/research on the web. In general, your OK discussing the results of a study (attribution is always a good idea), but you can't reproduce the published paper. The AMA Manual of Style states, "The amount of text subject to fair use is determined by its proportion of the whole, but this proportion is not measurable by word length. ... The length quoted should never be such that it would diminish the potential market for or value of tthe original work."

If we wish to duplicate a table from a published study, we must get permission and often pay a licensing fee.

7:21 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the contribution, atadams!

My two cents to all this is that, even if it turns out to be fair use for a writer to cop a "fact" such as "40% of sick days are taken on Mondays and Fridays", the intelligent writer will always attribute where that datum comes from. Otherwise, the reader's like, "Oh yeah? Sez who?"

You weaken your case if you cite survey-type facts without saying where you got the facts. How do we know you didn't just make it up?

7:52 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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You just have to hope that they got their facts right, otherwise it may be noticed that you copied them

Some publishers introduce innocuous errors or extra 'facts' in their products for just this purpose. These red herrings make it easy to root out plagiarism. Until recently map publishers used to (not sure if they still do) add an extra small alley, street, lane or an obscure mispelling to part of a map. When that feature shows up on other published maps, well, that's kind of proof that it was copied and not based on other, original sources.

<aside>It's kind of the same way that mailing list publishers include a "control address" in lists they sell. If they receive a mailing they can immediately tell whether somebody is making unauthorized use of the list.</aside>

Be careful out there.

7:56 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Attibution also allows the reader to research the data further if they wish. On our sites we use footnotes liberally and then link the footnotes to PubMed abstracts.
9:08 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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As long as "40% of sick days are taken on Monday's and Friday's" is in your own words, it's not plagarism since this is a fact and not an idea.

It's not a fact. "Gartner Group research shows that 40% of sick days are taken on Monday's and Friday's" is a fact.
9:45 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Facts, propositions, quotations ...

"BT and GG are the same person" is a proposition. Most of us don't know if this proposition describes a fact.

"WG has written that BT and GG are the same person" is a fact (and a true proposition) if WG has written it. But it's no quotation. It's like "I heard WG saying that BT and GG are the same person." - You may add where WG has written or said that - still no quotation.

"WG has said <date, source>: 'I know that BT and GG are the same person' is a quotation. You may quote that sentence, but you are not allowed to copy all arguments given by WG literally, or to copy a photo published by WG proving what he said.

It's just an example :)

10:28 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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A bit off topic, but I need to respond to Hawkgirl:
If three different research firms survey to find out: "The percentage of female Californians who support Arnold Schwarzzeneger for Governor" - they will get three different sets of results.

If I understand this correctly, at least 2 of those firms ought to be sacked. Statistics is a well established part of mathematical science. There are ways to calculate how large your sample should be to get a reliable result - that is, a result that should reoccur in 90%, 95% or 99% of similar investigations.
10:54 pm on Oct 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

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ronpk, that's only true if the three different firms are calculating statistics from the same survey/study. Most of the time, they will use studies with differently worded questions, asked to differing sample populations, with different methodology to control for known error factors. Thus, the market research and public survey industries.
1:55 am on Oct 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Getting back to fashezee's original question, the answer boils down to how generic the "facts" are. To state that "George Washington was the first president of the U.S." requires no attribution. To state that "The current cost of PC ownership is $11,253 per year" is no doubt the result of a specific study and should be attributed to Gartner, probably with a citation. (That also falls into the questionable "fact" category, where the real fact is that a study calculated that number, not that the number is accurate.)

Is there a middle ground? Sure... I think it would be perfectly safe to say, "Some experts estimate the cost of PC ownership to be over $10,000 per year" without reference to a specific researcher or article. Your readers, of course, would probably appreciate more details to permit followup research if desired.

2:07 am on Oct 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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There are some that would debate that Washington was the first President of the United States:

[thehollowearthinsider.com...] :)

To further muddy the issue, you can copyright a compilation of facts. If a data set enjoys the status of being a compilation, it is protected by copyright laws.

3:05 am on Oct 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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You cannot use their words though without giving them credit.

There seem to be a fair number of people implying that if you give attribution it is acceptable to use previously-published material.

As others have pointed out, that may be true as applied to plagiarism, but not to copyright violations. If I quote three paragraphs from today's Dave Barry article on my Web site, I'm infringing on his copyright, regardless of whether I attribute it to him or not.

3:11 am on Oct 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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if this were the case, then just about every single research paper completed in college or higher that quoted a section from a copyrighted book and properly cited the reference would be considered a copyright violation.

That is a downright silly notion...

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