Museum collections / intellectual property

Barry Roth barry_roth at YAHOO.COM
Thu Feb 14 09:32:54 CST 2002

When museums claim copyright on their collection data, what exactly do they think they are asserting those rights about?

In my understanding, copyright pertains to a formulation or expression of facts, not to the facts themselves.  The elementary example sometimes given is:  the fact that my phone number is (###) ###-#### is not copyrightable; but the telephone company can copyright its phone directory, which is a formulation containing that information.

The fact that species X occurs at locality Y is an independently discoverable fact and not subject to copyright.  Similarly, the existence of a lot of specimen X from locality Y in Museum A is independently discoverable information, although the museum may control access to that specimen.

Therefore, is it the catalogue, or perhaps the arrangement bits of data on the server, on which a museum can claim copyright?

I would particularly like to hear from Taxacomers who as part of their professional duties have had to deal with this type of question.  Examples of museum policy (both written policy and its day-to-day application) would also be welcome.


Barry Roth

ps.  Obviously, the laws of different countries my govern differently on this issue, so there may not be one single answer.  That would be interesting, too.

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