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Copyright Status of Thermodynamic Properties?

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the consider-crown-copyright dept.

Databases 154

orzetto writes "I work at a research institute, and programming models of physical systems is what I do most of the time. One significant problem when modeling physical processes is finding thermodynamic data. There are some commercial solutions, but these can be quite expensive, and to the best of my knowledge there are no open source efforts in this direction. In my previous job, my company used NIST's Supertrapp, which is not really that expensive, but is written in Fortran, and an old-fashioned dialect at that. As a result, it is a bit difficult to integrate into other projects (praised be f2c), and the programming interface is simply horrible; worse, there are some Fortran-induced limitations such as a maximum of 20 species in a mixture. I was wondering whether it would be legal to buy a copy of such a database (they usually sell with source code, no one can read Fortran anyway); take the data, possibly reformatting it as XML; implement a new programming interface from scratch; and publish the package as free software. Thermodynamic data is not an intellectual creation but a mere measurement, which was most likely done not by the programmers but by scientists funded with our tax money. What are your experiences and opinions on the matter? For the record, I am based in Germany, so the EU database directive applies."

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FEED ME (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826065)

Feed Me, Feed Me Now !!

Re:FEED ME (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827487)

Yeah, you wish, you efing tro!!

Re:FEED ME (4, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827721)

Yes, I am deliberately replying to a top-level post to ask a question. A question about something that arguably doesn't belong in the summary (editors, anyone?).

I was wondering whether it would be legal to buy a copy of such a database

That's a legal question. The answer to that question might seriously complicate your life if you get it wrong. What would possess a person to ask this of Slashdot instead of contacting a lawyer? Better yet, why would a German expect a USA-based Web site to be familiar with the nuances of German (or EU) copyright law? I'm trying to picture a situation where I'd contact a German online forum to ask for legal advice pertaining to American law and I just can't come up with anything.

I suppose next we'll see an Ask Slashdot which says "hi, I'm a diabetic and I forgot how much insulin I am supposed to inject myself with, please advise." And I'll have to scroll down significantly to see a partly-buried comment where someone finally suggests that perhaps he should be asking a doctor...

Re:FEED ME (2, Insightful)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 4 years ago | (#28828249)

slashdot knows more than most IP lawyers. You have to remember, lawyering is essentially about either telling you what case law precedent has established (like don't rob banks), or arguing for your side, not about "truth" or "right and wrong". Most lawyers are more the type that will take the money, then figure out how to argue the way you want... they don't do good with "advice" not tied to rulings in court. Ask the right question and you'll pay the lawyers a bunch less money... nobody wants THAT!

In regards to the question, he's looking to pull government funded data out of a program. Considering most countries in Europe allow the state to charge for everything it can and that they have "database aggregation" "copyrights". His plan would probably get him sued.

So now that most of slashdot would agree on that outcome.... what other resources are available to obtain his desired outcome. This is where the slashdot crowd helps because they're in different countries and chances are pretty good somebody will know what government or research office he should talk to... There are still huge chunks of government services that aren't documented anywhere on the internet. Corporations that know who has the info freely available love to keep their sources opaque so the industry has to go thru them to get free information, and in many cases that means "handshake" deals so key offices never have time to get their web pages posted properly. You'd be surprised how many government services are still known only by the posting outside the office door (in the basement just above the beware of leopard sign) or maybe the phone book if you're lucky.

FORTRAN (4, Funny)

pilsner.urquell (734632) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826073)

FORTRAN awful? Give me a break.


Re:FORTRAN (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826117)

Huh? Recent versions (ie, in the past couple decades) of Fortran are really very decent for scientific calculation, in many respects better than C. There's a ton of computational chemistry software, for example, written primarily in modern Fortran.


Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826375)

Yeah, but most stuff is written not in modern fortran where you can actually have variable names of a decent length, but in cruddy old fortran that's impossible to read.

Re:FORTRAN (2, Interesting)

orkybash (1013349) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826855)

Most stuff written *today* is written in modern fortran where you can actually have variable names of a decent length. Most legacy code that you have to rely on (e.g. linear algebra routines) are written in the cruddy old fortran. But it's solid code, works as a black box, and I would venture to guess that it's not a *whole* lot less readable than your average implementation of printf. Plus, if you want to update it to modern fortran, be my guest - hope you have a lot of time, patience, money, and a good set of unit tests....


Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826191)

Fortran really is not that hard to read, it's just part of the reality of programming. We will always be moving forward but will always require the ability to understand how we got there in the first place. I'm starting to think that Indian guy was right. U.S. technology graduates really are worthless.


Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826595)

Or in this case, German technology graduates.

Re:FORTRAN (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826807)

FORTRAN awful? Give me a break.




Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827519)

It's silly.


Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827677)

Ahh, Slashdot ate my correctly formatted sarcasm XML tag! My "It's silly." post is just stupid now (or it could have been that before too).

Re:FORTRAN (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827703)

switch (i)
case me: ....
        break; ....

oooops that's C not Fortran but have a break on me

Department (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826075)

What does the department line "consider-crown-copyright" mean? Is it a clever pun in relation to thermodynamics? Aside from any possible puns, I don't see how crown copyright could be relevant to Germany.

Re:Department (3, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826273)

Anything produced by the United States Federal Government (which the National Institute of Standards and Technology certainly qualifies as), is in the public domain.

That's what he meant.

NIST - Public Domain (4, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826089)

If the NIST program is the product of the work of US Government employees it is in the public domain. I would not be surprised if many of the commercial closed-source programs for the same purpose are based on it. In any case, tabulated data is not protected by US copyright so someone in the US could certainly do as you suggest.

FAQ claims copyright (2, Informative)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826225)

The FAQ [nist.gov] claims that the US government has a copyright on the material. This could be possible if the material was not directly generated by the NIST itself --- for example, they paid a contractor to generate it and it is considered a "work for hire".

The facts themselves probably can't be considered to be under copyright.

OTOH, I agree with a previous poster that you should consult a lawyer if you want to actually do anything which isn't sheeple-ish with the data.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826265)

> This could be possible if the material was not directly generated by the NIST itself ---
> for example, they paid a contractor to generate it and it is considered a "work for hire".

Which is why I wrote "if". Anyone who felt motivated could probably find out via FOIA requests (which also could get you unlicensed copies of the data).

Re:FAQ claims copyright (5, Informative)

Alsee (515537) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826461)

The EU database law specifically does not protect foreign databases unless that foreign country also creates a database a law and establishes mutual protection. The US has no such protection, in fact it seems no country outside the EU has established reciprocal database protection. It should be possible to do this open source project based on data from the US or from anywhere outside the EU.

The FAQ [nist.gov] claims that the US government has a copyright on the material.

The factual data in that database cannot be protected by copyright, it is not protected as a database in the US, and is not covered under EU law. The only copyright they could claim on it is either if it contains creative images or creative text or the like, then those particular elements could be protected, or they could perhaps claim a copyright on the creative arrangement and formatting of the data in the database. Both of those issued can be avoided.

What can be done is use this database and read out the needed factual data elements and then re-write it into the database for the open source project. Purely factual text-fields such as the name of an element or compound or whatever can be copied, just be careful not to copy any images or free-form text fields such as descriptive text or explanatory text. Then write the data out in your own arrangement. The best thing to do there is to arrange the data in some strict alphabetical or numerical order - there is no creativity and no copyrightability in that sort of unique ordering. That means not only storing the records in alphabetical order, but also order the data elements within each record in name-of-field alphabetical order. It might even be a good idea to rename any fields that care reasonably open to custom naming. There is no need to rename a field like "name" or "address" or "phone number", but a field like "work contact number" could easily be called "work phone".

The best way to go about it would be to create a mostly-empty, but functioning, database before even looking at your intended source material, that way by definition there is no copying of the formatting of the database. Once there is a functioning database design then the factual data elements can be copied from the source to fill the already-designed database.


Re:FAQ claims copyright (2, Insightful)

Throtex (708974) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826495)

I wasn't expecting to find the correct answer to a legal question here on Slashdot, but, there it is. /thread. Too bad I don't have any mod points.

One nit, though, just be careful with "renaming a field" as a solution ... that could still get you nailed as a derivative work. I do like the idea of building the framework from scratch, and only then populating it with the data.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (1)

jmcvetta (153563) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826735)

I wasn't expecting to find the correct answer to a legal question here on Slashdot, but, there it is.

Wow, the copyright parasites must really be scraping bottom, if database field names count as "creative" work.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28828059)

> The best way to go about it would be to create a mostly-empty, but functioning, database before even looking at your intended source material, that way by definition there is no copying of the formatting of the database.
too bad he already saw the database so the copying could be subconscious. copyright law is funtimes!

Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826641)

It is a well thought out, fact-based response.
In the USA, facts are not copyrightable, this includes the facts in a database. Only expressive, original content is copyrightable, not the facts on which the expressions are based. Also, there is no originality in the practical ordering of a database, unless it can somehow be seen as rising above obviousness and can be considered creative.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827979)

The best way to go about it would be to create a mostly-empty, but functioning, database before even looking at your intended source material,

But he already admitted to the world that he looked at not only the database, but the program.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826465)

This could be possible if the material was not directly generated by the NIST itself --- for example, they paid a contractor to generate it and it is considered a "work for hire".

'They' in this case would be the American public. If the American public paid for a 'work for hire' then the American public owns it. Thats not to say that they necessarily have 'rights' to it.. but your arguement as it stands doesnt seem to qualify.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827673)

I am a federal worker and I oversee some contracts that involve writing Fortran codes for simulating nuclear reactors. That is not quite right. You need to consult the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), Chapter 27. Specifically, see

27.404-2 Limited rights data and restricted computer software.
27.404-3 Copyrighted works.


If you read those sections, and take the time to really understand the definitions they use, and read the appropriate appendices, etc, you will find that the legalese seems to indicate that the contractor IS allowed to copyright data generated in performance of the contract (with the government's permission), and that the goverment maintains an exclusive, irrevocable license to use such data for its purposes, but the government does not necessarily maintain an exclusive right to "redistribute" such data.

It is my belief that the law is written this way so as to give potential contractors an incentive to do business with the government. If a company can't build a portfolio of intellectual property, then it has no means of distinguishing itself from the competition. In the long run, the government would not get the best value for its $.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 4 years ago | (#28828013)

United States Code; Title 17; Chapter 1; Â 105 Subject matter of copyright; United States Government works. Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.US Code

Re:FAQ claims copyright (1)

Repossessed (1117929) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826829)

Its possible that the contractors retain copyright, or they licensed someone else's code (these tend to block open source releases), but the government itself can't have copyright under US law, regardless of who wrote it.

Re:FAQ claims copyright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827535)

Bzzzztttt!! Wrong. The government CAN own a copyright if said copyright has been transferred to it.

US Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105

"Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise. "

Re:NIST - Public Domain (1)

Odinlake (1057938) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826269)

...tabulated data is not protected by US copyright...

What does that mean exactly? Seems to me any digital information could be called "tabulated data", more or less directly.

Re:NIST - Public Domain (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826331)

I think it means that you don't gain copyright by merely putting data which is not otherwise copyrighted into a table.
Of course if you already have the copyright on the things in the table, you won't lose that copyright by putting it into the table.

For example, the following table is probably not covered by copyright:

List of decimal digits
Digit Value
  0 0
  1 1
  2 2
  3 3
  4 4
  5 5
  6 6
  7 7
  8 8
  9 9

IANAL, however.

Re:NIST - Public Domain (1)

Repossessed (1117929) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826885)

It means you need to have some sort of creativity.

So if I take tabulated data and arrange it in a pattern that I think looks neat, I can copyright that. But if its just arranged alphabetically, I can't.

Re:NIST - Public Domain (0)

budgenator (254554) | more than 4 years ago | (#28828075)

Facts can not be copyrighted in the US, when you purchase a Karaoke disk, the lyrics are a fact. they are the lyrics copyrighted by the author so only the author would hold the copyright, not the Karaoke disk publisher, so they always change at least one word, they then hold the copyright on the change, making it easier to protect their work. When you play Trivial Pursuit a similar situation exists, so when you think the game's answer is wrong, you might be right.

Re:NIST - Public Domain (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826669)

It appears that there is an exemption to the public domain status which applies here:

15 U.S.C. Â 290e authorizes U.S. Secretary of Commerce to secure copyright for works produced by the Department of Commerce under the Standard Reference Data Act.[8]

IRTTALIYJ (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826109)

I Recommend Talking To A Lawyer In Your Jurisdiction.



Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826139)

Surely one lawyer is no match for a myriad armchair law experts!

Dead nigger storage (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826137)

Did you see the sign?

Re:Dead nigger storage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826305)

Haha! That's pul fiction loesr

Wrote code in ForTran 77 for six years (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826215)

Let me tell you something: God speaks ForTran, and the guys who translated the bible from ForTran to Hebrew did a really really bad job.

c (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826255)

I don't now about thermo, but I have the copyright to the speed of light...and I'm watching you.

Ask NIST (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826285)

Ask NIST how they'd feel about you reimplementing the whole thing in XML and C++ or Python or whatever and making that open source. Tell them they won't even have to pay you for it. One or two of the TPOCs at NIST may die of shock, but there's a very good chance they'll give you permission to do it.

Where did commercial solutions get data from? (2, Insightful)

Gnavpot (708731) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826287)

I would assume that it would be difficult to sell a commercial solution for scientific purposes unless it is based on already documented and accepted data. Basing your scientific work on calculations made by a commercial solution with homegrown data would make it difficult to openly document your method to other scientists. So why not find the published version of those data instead of lifting them out of software?

But what do I know? I am an engineer, not a scientist.

In my work I do a lot of calculations of water and steam properties, and the available software I know of is strictly using the calculation methods published by IAPWS. So if I wanted to, I could buy the IAPWS documentation and make my own software.

It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (4, Informative)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826291)

A database is copyrightable. See http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/database.html [bitlaw.com]

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826325)

But the data therein is not under copyright protection. One could pull the relevant information out of the commercial database into a new database since "In regard to collections of facts, O'Connor states that copyright can only apply to the creative aspects of collection: the creative choice of what data to include or exclude, the order and style in which the information is presented, etc., but not on the information itself. If Feist were to take the directory and rearrange them it would destroy the copyright owned in the data." Now if the commercial database owners would like to argue in court that their database is "creative", that is up to them.

Or even from your link: "No Separate Protection for Underlying Data: Although databases may be protected as compilations under U.S. copyright law, the underlying data is not automatically granted protection. The Copyright Act specifically states that the copyright in a compilation extends only to the compilation itself, and not to the underlying materials or data. 17 U.S.C. 103(b). As a result, compilation copyrights cannot be used to extend copyright protection to ideas or facts that are otherwise unprotectable (it is a basic premise of copyright law that there is no copyright protection for ideas and basic facts, as is explained in the BitLaw section on unprotected works).

Thus, a database of unprotectable works (such as basic facts) is protected only as a compilation. Since the underlying data is not protected, U.S. copyright law does not prevent the extraction of unprotected data from an otherwise protectable database. In the example of a database of presidential quotations, it would therefore not be a violation of copyright law to extract (copy) a quotation from George Washington from the database. On the other hand, it would be violation to copy the entire database, as long as the database met the Feist originality and creativity requirements."

See also SCOTUS phone book ruling ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications_v._Rural_Telephone_Service [wikipedia.org] ).

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826369)

Or, if the database is itself non-creative in terms of its selection and arrangement of uncopyrightable information, the database would be uncopyrightable as well. This is the problem that telephone white pages ran into in Feist; they contained all the listed numbers (where the phone company doesn't decide which numbers are and are not listed), in alphabetical order by the last name or name of business associated with the number. That selection and arrangement was non-creative. OTOH, a directory of your favorite places to eat would likely be creative in selection, at least. Arrangements are tougher; there are really only so many in common use.

Generally, any all-encompassing selection is apt to be non-creative (picking and choosing may be creative, but blanket inclusion never is), and many arrangements are non-creative too. This tends to hit databases rather hard.

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (4, Interesting)

Wdi (142463) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826447)

I do not know about this exact database, but many scientific databases are hand-curated and extensively reviewed. Many do not include every measurement published in the literature, but carefully and judiciously select those data points deemed, by expert opinion, most reliable. Thermodynamic databases do not contains "facts" per se, but measured data points which may or may not be close to the facts. The editing and review process, which is quite an investment, does often create a solid foundation for copyright. These databases are not just a routine business, like a reformatted dump of the data from a telephone company.

Mod Parent Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826819)

Interesting, something to think about.

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826867)

but is your name bob, or is it robert.
there's always a choice.

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827283)

I do not know about this exact database, but many scientific databases are hand-curated and extensively reviewed. Many do not include every measurement published in the literature, but carefully and judiciously select those data points deemed, by expert opinion, most reliable.

That's tricky. On the one hand, the selection isn't obviously non-creative, but on the other, it is for the facts which are most factual, rather than an arbitrary creative standard, e.g. the best thermodynamic properties to read about at the beach. I would not want to bet on which way a court would go on copyrightability. Still, do remember that effort expended is not relevant for the analysis; only creativity is relevant. Otherwise, the phone book, which does take a lot of effort to compile, but which lacks creativity, would be copyrightable.

Thermodynamic databases do not contains "facts" per se, but measured data points which may or may not be close to the facts.

That's close enough for this purpose. No one is demanding a platonic ideal here. If the scientists who determine them are reporting on something they've found, rather than making up numbers out of thin air, it's going to be treated as factual.

The editing and review process, which is quite an investment, does often create a solid foundation for copyright.

Again, the investment of money or effort is irrelevant, at least under US copyright law. Editing and review (whether cheap and easy, or expensive and difficult) is what counts. But even then, in this case, it seems tricky since creativity and hard scientific data don't always go well together.

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (1)

eapache (1239018) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827325)

Link for the Feist case referred to by parent:


Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (1)

Dipster (830908) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826643)

Databases are indeed copyrightable, but the U.S. requires an element of creativity to do so as decided in the case of Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc.

From the parent's link:

According to the Supreme Court, a compilation is not copyrightable per se, but is copyrightable only if its facts have been "selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship," citing the definition of a compilation in 17 U.S.C. 101.

This holding overruled numerous lower courts that adopted a "sweat of the brow" or "industrious collection" test of copyrightability. Under this test, if a compilation was created as a result of a great deal of effort (such as the collection of thousands of names and addresses), copyright protection would extend to the compilation regardless of the creativity or originality in the selection, coordination, or arrangement of the facts.

The Supreme Court expressly stated that this "sweat of the brow" analysis was faulty, and that copyright extended only to the original selection, coordination, and arranging of data, and not to any unprotected facts contained within the compilation.

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (2, Informative)

pearl298 (1585049) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826947)

A database is copyrightable, but the applicable case law from when I practised (YEARS AGO!) was the phone directory - it was held to be sufficient that the copier rearranged and reorganised the information to provide a "mere spark of creativity".

Re:It Probably Wouldn't Be Legal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827011)

Tricky realm in copyright law, really.

Specific heat, mass, and physical properties of the compound are not copyrightable, like addresses and phone numbers are not copyrightable.

But if the selection of elements on the card in the database are "creative" and not fully constrained by function (useful articles doctrine in copyright), then it may be copyrightable.

What's likely is that their arrangement of the card is copyrightable: the selection of and order of properties.

Not copying the copyrightable elements is a complete defense. My suggestion would be to come up with your own "card" and write a program to "strip" out the physical properties, then put them on your own independently created card.

Thermodynamics (1)

BruceSchaller (1234730) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826311)

I think that the biggest problem isn't intellectual property, but the people who administer it. I don't think that the demand is particularly great. As such, there isn't a great incentive to release it freely. There are costs to administering such a large DB. Furthermore, nobody wants their name on a database of all the fundamental properties because in that data there are bound to be mistakes. Caveat Emptor! Also, while mixtures of hydrocarbons are common because of oil refining business, many solutions don't have property listings because they are simply unknown. I am working on a project which involves CO2 and seawater... seawater has many components which vary depending on your location on the planet. So while there is data, the validity of it may be in question, it depends on where the data was collected. It's a bit of a nightmare.

Re:Thermodynamics (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827015)

I think that the biggest problem isn't intellectual property, but the people who administer it. I don't think that the demand is particularly great. As such, there isn't a great incentive to release it freely. There are costs to administering such a large DB. Furthermore, nobody wants their name on a database of all the fundamental properties because in that data there are bound to be mistakes.

You are looking at the liability issue for the creator/admin, the supply side. The bigger liability problem is on the engineer, demand side.

Something that is missing from this discussion, is some Chemical Engineer specific knowledge that I can attempt to provide. The whole point of a "steam table" and similar products like discussed here, is there is no accurate formula for vapor pressure at various temps. The simplistic linear equations taught in high school don't work at the extremes, or don't give accurate enough results to design a safe and profitable plant. So, more than a century ago, physicist / chemist / engineers started making lab measurements, and selling graphs and tables of data. The modern version of that product is the expensive computer models discussed in the article, which optimistically try to answer any input conditions with correct and continuous answers based on a mixture of theory, optimism, and some distinct individual laboratory measurements.

Because the data model is used to design multi-million dollar plants, and because the only way to verify the results is very expensive lab work, and is therefore often glossed over, a mistake in the data model could be a multi-million dollar mistake, assuming the losses are purely economic and no human victims. The creator/admin probably was intelligent enough to release under a license that removes all liability for data errors. The end user engineer will not be so lucky.

On one far extreme of the provability / testability spectrum, you've got yet another word processor, where if the screen doesn't match what you typed in, literally a trained gorilla could figure out the word processor is broken, and act accordingly (throw poo at programmer? The more things change, the more they stay the same) Or maybe a crypto hash where a hundred programmers can write it in a hundred languages and all the outputs better match for a given input.

At the other extreme of provability / testability, you've got a Chem-E basically having to take the program output on faith that it's correct. The program says the pressure of supercritical steam at 700 K is 230 atm, I know that is somewhat above critical temp and above critical pressure, so the best I can do is "sounds about right to me"? So specify plant components based on a 230 atm environment (adding appropriate safety factors, etc) Now steam pressure is old stuff, boring, and everyone knows about what to expect, but using really weird stuff under really weird conditions, who knows what crazy output from the data model might slip past, resulting in a disaster?

Despite the dangers, it would be great for education, and cheap experimental research/simulation, even if it would be too legally dangerous to use in formal design work.

Unreadable? (1)

dcw3 (649211) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826323)

"no one can read Fortran anyway"...you must be new here. It certainly wasn't designed to the standards young engineers expect today, but given the limitations of processors back in the 60's to early 80's, it served its purpose. I did my first college CS class in Fortran back in '83. Anyone can write illegible code, but with a little effort, one could write fairly readable Fortran.

A mere youngster... (1)

RotateLeftByte (797477) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826389)

I worked on my first Fortran Prog in 1971 on a Honeywell DDP-124.
It was for controlling a Boeing 727 Flight Simulator.

I can still read fortran as can many people here. I'd bet many could read Cobol and Algol if pushed. Coral-66 baffles a lot of people though.

Re:A mere youngster... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826459)

1966 - using Fortran for audio filter design whilst at BBC - following year Atals Autocode (now thats a real language!) for RF filter work using printed circuit inductors.

Pirate it (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826335)

The law needs a major update anyway.

It will be a very difficult project (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826349)

I can't find my copy of Supertrapp at the moment, but as I recall there is some strange wording in the license. It's definitely NOT public domain as asserted by the uninformed.

It's also not tabulated data. It's a collection of equations and empirical constants embedded in what may be the worst code I've ever seen.

It may be easier to track down the original papers and work from those, though that too is difficult as lots of the original work was published in obscure journals.

FWIW I am very comfortable w/ FORTRAN and prefer it for serious numerical work (default choice is C). I'm also quite skilled at interfacing FORTRAN to other languages.

I'm interested in working on such a project and have quite a bit of experience w/ the problem, though only limited experience w/ Supertrapp because it is so bad I tended to avoid using it unless I absolutely had to. Please send me an email so we can discuss more. rhb acm.org

Reg Beardsley

Re:It will be a very difficult project (3, Informative)

GPSguy (62002) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826493)

I tend to work in the atmospheric sciences, where, as one might guess we work with microphysical processes and thermodynamic data. I would second the recommendation that working from the original, authoritative publications would be a good approach. If you're well-versed in the field already, you're familiar with the seminal works. If you're not, your job is bigger than you realize, as programming for a scientific project is rarely just finding equations and re-coding them, or finding a database of physical constants and calling them. You've got to understand where in the domain in question they come into play and use appropriate equations and parameterizations.

Fortran, even Fortran-66, is rarely unreadable. However, it often is written like a short story in a local dialect. The author has a method and style, and you have to understand it, or at least become conversant with it, before reading and understanding the flow of the code occurs. I should point out that this is really not different from any other language. Fortran, however, has been maligned because its roots were not in object-basis. Fortran 90 and Fortran 95 both, however, comply with the OO paradigm. The inherent problem is, CS departments often don't teach Fortran, and their faculty will tell you how horrid it is. Why? Because their discipline is COMPUTER science, not, say, solid earth geophysics, and they're conversant with a number of languages.and feel they can pick the best one for the job. The geophysicist, on the other hand, spent his time learning how and why those pesky tectonic plates move around, something the computer scientist never really studied unless, maybe, he took a rocks-for-jocks class and got really interested. Rather than mastering C, C++, Java and C#, the geophysicist learned just enough Fortran to get his work done, and proceeded down a different path. Since Fortran ("FORmula TRANslation") was developed to help discipline scientists transform their equations to operable code, this really makes sense.

My first computer initiation was using Fortran (Fortran-II) on an IBM 1401 while I was still in junior high school. My first formal course in programming used SWIFT, BASIC and SNOBOL, over the course of a summer while in high school. Virtually every course in college I took (I was not a CS major, but could/should have been from my transcript) was in Fortran (plus a pair of assembly language courses) because the choices were Fortran, Cobol or assembly. Imagine, if you will, not having a "modern language around, and having to code decent I/O or even decent APIs with that choice.

Re:It will be a very difficult project (1)

orkybash (1013349) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826957)

Fortran 90 and Fortran 95 both, however, comply with the OO paradigm.

If only you were right, my life for the past two years would have been much easier. Give me inheritence, dynamic binding, and private members of derived types ("structs" or "classes" for everyone who doesn't speek fortran). THEN maybe I'll agree that these standards comply with the OO paradigm. 2003 certainly does, but point me to a single complier that fully implements it...

Re:It will be a very difficult project (1)

Noose For A Neck (610324) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827237)

All of those can be accomplished in Fortran 90/95. There is even direct language support for the third requirement (private members of derived types), and I do it all the time; it works just like other public/private declarations, just placed inside the type definition. Inheritance and polymorphism (I'm guessing this is what dynamic binding means from a quick look at Wikipedia) are a bit trickier, but the techniques have been worked out and documented by these fellows [rpi.edu] (Viktor Decyk's page [ucla.edu] is also quite helpful). If you prefer to avoid typing out a certain necessary amount of boilerplate to do this, you could use Drew McCormack's forpedo [macanics.net] preprocessor (described in detail on MacResearch [macresearch.org]). So, it's not necessary to wait for 2003, and in fact, many people haven't but have managed to write and maintain very large codes in Fortran 90/95. Good luck!

Re:It will be a very difficult project (1)

orzetto (545509) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826517)

[Supertrapp] may be the worst code I've ever seen.

Ok, so maybe my judgement of Fortran was a bit too harsh, Supertrapp was the only larger project in Fortran I have ever looked into... until my eyes started bleeding, that is.

Re:It will be a very difficult project (1)

pmarini (989354) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827553)

maybe your eyes bled because of the green/amber screen you were looking at...

Re:It will be a very difficult project (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827481)

Who cares what the license says, if the license goes against the law itself?
I read in another comment, that it's from the NIST project, tax funded, and by definition public domain.
I don't know how often I see things, that are completely free, but where someone slapped a copyright on it, and acts as if you have to have a license to do anything with it.
People are that stupid, and that arrogant. People also often do not know laws, even when they write licenses for a living.

I'd check that fact with NIST, it being tax funded, and that everything the government does belongs to the people by definition, and then go with it.

People, stop buying into the delusional realities of other (loud but wrong) people. :)

Re:It will be a very difficult project (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827817)

FWIW I am very comfortable w/ FORTRAN and prefer it for serious numerical work

You might want to re-evaluate that position. Modern CPUs benefit enormously from 'hints' embedded in the machine code generated by compilers. My experience has been that this can have a significant impact on performance given the right circumstances - in fact I've even seen that compiling C with a C++ compiler can give significant performance increases simply because the C++ compiler was more mainstream and so better maintained and optimized. I cannot help but think that a Fortran compiler is so far off the mainstream that the performance of its code will be significantly worse than a C++ compiler.

Of course there are lots of things you can do in C++ that will slow down your code so you have to be careful but given a level comparison of C++ vs. Fortran I would expect the C++ code to be no slower and potentially faster.

Fortran not readable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826351)

Granted, I graduated EE school in 1987, but every student was required to learn Fortran 77. Not sure how long that remained a requirement but I can honestly say Fortran was one of the easiest languages to learn. Saying it's not readable is laughable.

Re:Fortran not readable? (1)

orzetto (545509) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826539)

Supertrapp uses pre-Fortran 90 syntax, meaning identifiers have 6 letter at maximum. This makes it sure that complex code will never be readable, because you can only use acronyms that are way too short to be clear. Point taken, however, that this is a fault of the implementation rather than the language's.

Free Software vs. Genuiness of Data (4, Informative)

modrzej (1450687) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826391)

People using this NIST data do it because it has NIST sign on it, so they don't risk being dependent on tabulated values from not exhaustively verified source. If you're rewritting the source code, you should take care to establish means by which users could check that data are unaltered with respect to what NIST servers contain. If you work for renowned institute, that should be easy, just store the database on your server and sync it with NIST, along with sources of data cited at NIST website.

As it comes to Fortran programming, it's optimal language for scientific computing. Modern dialects have some of the power of C (allocatable arrays, long subourtine names, free format code, modules, interoperability with C), but, what is preferable in scientific computing, programmer isn't encouraged to tinker with machine-specific stuff. Many existing codes are written in Fortran, e.g. powerful LAPACK library and many computational chemistry packages, so for many physicists/chemists/engineers Fortran is the only language they know and care of. Moreover, Fortran in recent years has gained parallel-programming functionality thanks to OpenMP (it's provided with features eqivalent to that in C/Cpp).

Re:Free Software vs. Genuiness of Data (1)

GameGod0 (680382) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827503)

Many existing codes

Spoken like a true physicist...

P.S. C doesn't encourage you to tinker with machine-specific stuff either.

Which database? (1)

sugarmotor (621907) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826479)

It looks like they are selling some database

    http://www.nist.gov/srd/dblist.htm [nist.gov]

And providing others for free,

    http://srdata.nist.gov/gateway/gateway?dblist=0 [nist.gov]

Which one are you after? Something like this?

    http://www.metallurgy.nist.gov/phase/solder/solder.tdb [nist.gov]

I imagine if you derive approximation formulas to the figures, and publish them packaged as software you
would be able to license it whichever way you liked - sounds "transformative" to me. Might even qualify as proper research.
Would that work?

I don't think "it's only measurements" is enough to say they have no copyright. On the other hand, if the same
numbers appear in different places / articles then if you establish that "these are the numbers", and you make your
database in a different format, it would be a different story.


Misleading title, wrong question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28826553)

It doesn't matter what the data describes, it matters who compiled the database. Read the EULA, or talk to your lawyers and possibly the lawyers of the people who sell the database. Asking for legal advice here is... not smart.

  Also, why are you tossing in ``XML''? It isn't the best possible format for all things (for one because it isn't a format; merely a method to make your storage extremely verbose--the higher level structure is in the DTD, which is amazingly enough often missing for haphazardly thrown together``databases'') and from your description it isn't clear it is the best format for your application. As used here it's clearly a case of buzzworderitis. Something for you to think about.

You're making things harder for yourself (1)

stevel (64802) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826579)

I think you need to get over your dislike of Fortran and make use of the many good and modern Fortran compilers available to you, both freeware and commercial. Any of them has got to be a better solution than f2c - if you think Fortran is hard to read, that's nothing compared to the cryptic output of f2c, and then you're locked in to using the buggy and archaic f2c support library.

I am not familiar with the application you're using, but the limits you describe are almost certainly not due to the coding language chosen. As for programming interface, it's easy to call Fortran from other languages and, in most cases, to call other languages from Fortran.

One can write unreadable and unmaintainable code in any language. A big benefit of Fortran is that old code is still supported by modern Fortran compilers.

Re:You're making things harder for yourself (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28828135)

Why reimplement something that is already working and has a long history of use and testing? In estimating the effort, include the testing required. Is this a good use of your time?

Supertrapp is written in ANSI standard FORTRAN 77. Fortran 90 / 95 / 2003 are much improved languages. Open source compilers are available, e.g., gfortran of the gcc collection. A Fortran 90 / 95 / 2003 compiler will compile standard FORTRAN 77 and provide the benefits of modern Fortran for newer code. One new feature is a standard interface to call C from Fortran, or Fortran from C (the ISO C Binding).

If you really want to port the code to a modern language, there are commercial software for cleaning up FORTRAN source code and translating to Fortran 95, such as PlusFORT and VAST/77to90 -- if the source code license allows.

Crowdsourcing? (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826675)

Maybe you could crowdsource for the data points?

Write your open source software to work with the data, and set up a website or something where people can contribute data points? There would obviously by no guarantee on any particular data contributed, but you could have some provision to flag data as wrong or dubious and store multiple conflicting values until you sort out the conflict somehow?


Just put a wrapper around it (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826707)

You are not the first to encounter this kind of problem. The traditional answer is to not mess with the Fortran, but to put a wrapper around it in the language of your choice and leave the Fortran internals alone.

From your description of the limitations of the Fortran code, I get the strong sense that this would be the best approach for you to take. It can be very difficult to tease out the reasoning behind some of those archaic Fortran constructions: they tended to be blends of methods to deal with hardware limitations that we don't have any more and also methods of dealing with computational limitations that are STILL present. E.g, when code was written to optimize buffering for a slow read-the-tape operation, it can be too easy to fail to see that it was also written to handle some kinkiness in the underlying differential expressions, or to exploit an edge case, or assure that some follow-on operation in another module would receive enough significant digits that its results would be better than garbage.

Just treat the Fortran library as a black box object and wrap the interface you want around it. You will find it easier to do, much easier to debug, and vastly easier to convince your colleagues that what you've done can be relied upon. You will also develop skills in wrapping old code for new purposes that could become an important part of your career.

How i do it (1)

bucuo (795414) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826725)

I'm a chemical engineer, and part of my job is to put together physical property packages for our simulator. I have no idea if you can legally do this by adapting something from another database, but I would contribute some of the information I have if you can get through the legal stuff.

Mainly, I rely on NIST's JANAF publication for thermodynamic data (inorganics only), the DIPPR database, and the Yaw's Physical Property Handbook. For binary VLE data DECHEMA is the best references Of these, JANAF is freely available (in horrible PDF format) while the other two would require some sort of membership or purchase. These are mainly in the form of equations or data tables. From there, we simply bring it into excel or sometimes some curve refitting routines and then on to the simulator, which takes the equations directly. We're members of AIChE which gives us access to the online version of these databases.

DIPPR was the result of a major effort of a consortium of companies who needed this data. I believe most of the serious big petrochemical companies are members of DIPPR. You will be trying to recreate this work, which is doable, but I think it will be harder than you think. I agree that this data shouldn't be locked away as tightly as it is.

Don't take anyone's advice here unless... (2, Insightful)

LunarStudio (836038) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826903)

...they specialize in international copyright law. While a US Citizen may be able to "copy" or "rewrite" code US taxpayers paid for, don't assume other, non-contributing (non tax-paying to the US) foreigners can openly copy and redistribute code that is technically the property of US citizens. Personally, I don't care as your topic is of little interest to me, but unless someone is attorney/lawyer in these copyrights, I wouldn't listen to anyone here.

Definitely copyrightable (2, Interesting)

j. andrew rogers (774820) | more than 4 years ago | (#28826995)

Empirical models of thermodynamic properties are definitely protected by copyright. There is a high-value market for these models, and different models of the same thermodynamic process will evaluate differently so it is a valuable creative product rather than a mere description of reality. For fields where tiny improvements in efficiency generate big cost savings, you want to use the most accurate model available where "most accurate" will be a function of the use case.

Thermodynamic property models are not measurements of reality, they are mathematical models of a physical process derived from empirical data. They are what you use to predict reality when it is not possible or practical to measure it. Turning the empirical data points into continuous functions is a creative step and the value of the creative step is in minimizing the divergence between the model and reality over as broad a range as possible. There are companies that specialize in producing and selling ultra-accurate thermodynamic property models.

Re:Definitely copyrightable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827961)

P = rho R T is a thermodynamic model of a real gas using thermodynamic constant R. By your logic if this was invented today it would be copyrightable. If it is true or not, that such an equation could be subject to copyright, is only an anchor to the progress of scientific discovery.

Properties of nature copyrightable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827035)

As a chemical engineering student in college I had trouble finding thermodynamic data for my senior project (vinyl chloride production through oxychlorination of ethane) due to the tight lids on the research. I understand the reason for this though because it takes a lot of money to figure this data out.

However, thermodynamic properties are those of nature. It would be like NASA obtaining a copyright for a map of the stars. If it is legal it shouldn't be.

It's the fundamental sources you want (1)

rlseaman (1420667) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827073)

NIST presumably charges on a cost recovery basis. They keep the data updated (latest version appears to be v3.2 as of 2007) and have to pay for the due diligence of keeping up with the scientific literature. Presumably either the DB (STPLIB2) or the documentation or separate publications describes how the data are accumulated and vetted. The software appears to permit the values to be updated by users (undoubtedly also familiar with the appropriate journals and research) in between releases.

You could consult the same papers and accumulate the same data. (And don't forget the subtle physical algorithms and numerical techniques embedded in the code.) This would not be a trivial exercise. More to the point, NIST exists precisely to serve as a reliable source of such information. Few other organizations have the resources to gain such trust. Should your customer trust you as much as NIST?

There is a frequent disconnect in scientific programming between the science and computing requirements. Many of the comments here focus on the niceties of programming, but neglect the underlying scientific reasoning. It isn't enough to get an answer - or even the answer - one must also construct a chain of deduction from the peer reviewed scientific literature to the resulting decision-making (for whatever purpose).

As far as choice of programming language, mature programmers appreciate the characteristics of each language like the bouquet of fine wines. Some languages are indeed "corked", but FORTRAN is not one of them. Think of a fine old brooding cabernet. C is a cheerful chianti, suitable for most situations - ideal (by design) for none.

The technical issues here have nothing to do with programming, per se, but rather system architecture. Clearly what is needed amounts to a small multi-platform relational database - mySQL or what have you - along with a portable library with multi-language bindings to allow the algorithms to be accessed from tailored applications. The NIST could then continue to sell their own general purpose application. The marketing issue is whether it would turn out that everybody would continue to use the NIST's application even given its apparent limitations.

But the real issue is sociology. One presumes that "Thermophysical Properties of Hydrocarbon Mixtures" implies a resource of interest to "Big Chem". Perhaps the reality is just that Exxon and Shell and BP and 3M and Monsanto and BASF create and maintain their own proprietary codes for such purposes?

Better yet... (1)

pmarini (989354) | more than 4 years ago | (#28827529)

I would simply change your last step
- and publish the package as free software
- and give back the restructured database to the copyright owner for them to publish just the data free from copyright

If that doesn't sound right to them, then suggest that you will put it on a web page only accessible to yourself, leak the web link to Google and after it's indexed say "sorry for the mistake"...

Most quality assurance processes also are "measurements" (with possibly a following remedy if non-conformant) but do you think that consulting companies would consider that their "measurements" should be available for free to amyone? (I do...)

NIST Points of Contact (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28827869)

As an alternative, a possibly more sane approach to your problem would be to proceed more in the fashion of the scientific world. Contact either NISTs SRM program, or Marcia Huber (the scientific lead on this SRM). You can find the contact information on the end of the page you posted in your link.

What this will allow you to do, if you choose to use the SuperTrapp database and codebase, is establish a working relationship with NIST. More than likely you will still have to pay the cost recovery fee, but that's something that can be worked out between the NISTs lawyers, the US Dept of Commerce, and your company.

To avoid the complexities of international copyright law, you may also wish to contact the Deutsches Institut fur Normung which is Germany's equivalent to the US NIST. Whether they have thermodynamic data to sell or not though is a different matter.

Be very very careful (2, Insightful)

Fallen Andy (795676) | more than 4 years ago | (#28828155)

Three words: Don't do it. Here's a *real life* story as to why. Once upon a time (ok, about 13-14 years ago) there was a large Greek software company that wanted to make a property tax program. The problem was that they didn't have the data. Yours truly got to reverse engineer a competitors database. Yes, I extracted all of their pathetically encrypted DB (substitution cipher WTF?). Now, if you know anything about databases or mailing lists or even log tables, you know that there are often deliberately false entries so that it's easy to know your data is be ripped (a bit earlier in time I caught out a Cypriot company ripping off the english greek dictionary data I'd been involved in that way).

I warned the project manager that sure go ahead and use the data as a basis for programming but not for the production program.

A couple of months later, the competitors lawyers appeared and (cough) out of court (cough) settlement.

Never did find out how much it cost "my" software house...

In the end they had to employ a gaggle of impoverished undergrads to build their own DB.

So, be very very careful. It might be a good idea to *ask* if you can re-use the data - often it's possible for non commercial purposes...


f2c? Don't do that! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28828183)

The one reason that programs are maintained in Fortran after all this years is that Fortran is wagonloads better for optimization. The compiler can take a lot more for granted than when using C with its pointers and one-dimensional arrays.

So going via f2c costs performance. Try using extern "fortran" or similar to pull the code in.


Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28828335)

People never learn do they? Slashdot is news for nerds, not Q&A with lawyers.

SEE A LAWYER. Don't expose yourself to a lawsuit based on the unauthorized practice of law so common on Slashdot. seriously. Perhaps you could contact NewYorkCountryLawyer directly - he probably knows enough and might be able to help you out.

CASE IN POINT: everyone focuses on copyright but I wouldn't be surprised if the software has a license agreement that binds you to not copying the data - that's called a contract. Someone in Wisconsin tried that and got sued (ProCD v. Zeidenberg) and guess what? HE LOST. That may or may not be the case, but illustrates the problems with your approach to getting legal advice.

Don't trust armchair lawyers especially when Copyright is concerned. There are so many myths out there you'd be surprised. (One that persisted until recently was: If I'm not doing this for commercial profit, its ok! WRONG)

The practice of law is very fact intensive. No armchair lawyer and not even a real lawyer can answer your legal question on the basis of just your half paragraph "blurb." There are a lot of hidden factors that a lawyer is trained to look for and ask about.....
I know lawyers can be expensive, and often have a bad rep, but they are highly trained individuals.

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