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Can FAQs Be Copyrighted?

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the obvious-answers dept.

The Courts 139

scubacuda writes: "Are FAQs copywritable? Judge Barbara B. Crabb, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, in the case Mist-On Systems, Inc. v. Gilley's European Tan Spa, didn't think so."

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139 comments

Can anyone help me out ? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564263)

Where can I get Xenix ? Just for fun.
TIA

Xenix FTP archive (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564314)

Downolad Xenix here [216.169.106.11].

Caveat: all of the files are pretty old so you're on your own as far as installation an any kind of newer hardware...

The court didn't say you can't copyright an FAQ (5, Informative)

btempleton (149110) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564265)

They simply said that you can't copyright the idea of an FAQ or the format of an FAQ, or a list of obvious questions.

If the FAQ had been swiped, with answers copied verbatim, it would have been a different ruling. The court ruled the competitor's FAQ was sufficiently different to not be an infringement, or so the article you point at said.

So this is much ado over nothing.

A word to the editors (5, Insightful)

Bastian (66383) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564293)

READ THE DAMN ARTICLE BEFORE YOU POST IT ON THE MAIN PAGE!

This court case is so banal it doesn't even deserve mention. The plaintiff was suing the defendant on the grounds that it basically ripped off the idea of having a FAQ at all, which is about as asinine as having one publisher sue another for putting a synopsis on the back of a book. It wasn't even over whether one FAQ was a copy of the other - they didn't cover the same questions or use the same answers to those questions that were the same.

What's next, Slashdot posting an article about a court ruling that it is indeed legal for everyone to write books about how to use computer software without paying royalties to O'Rielly?

Re:A word to the editors (2, Funny)

mixbsd (574131) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564322)

Yep, about as banal as BT suing Prodigy over a hyperlinks patent [theregister.co.uk]. Face it, anyone can make a crazy legal claim when it comes to intellectual property. Maybe someone should publish an "intellectual property lawsuit FAQ" somewhere to prevent such frivolous legal action in the future ;)

Re:A word to the editors (2)

BlueUnderwear (73957) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564362)

Maybe someone should publish an "intellectual property lawsuit FAQ" somewhere to prevent such frivolous legal action in the future ;)

Not so sure about that one... What if the lawyer that wrote a similar named FAQ (for the benefit of his fellow landsharks) takes offense, and sues you? You'd trigger frivolous legal action, rather than prevent some ;-)

Re:A word to the editors (1)

sirsnork (530512) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564370)

But we all know that a laywer only does something that will benefit him/herself... So they would never write anything for anyone else ;-)

Re:A word to the editors (2)

Pogue Mahone (265053) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564437)

You'd trigger frivolous legal action, ...

Which you could then put into the FAQ ...

I'm sure I should be able to contrive a "Russell's Paradox" out of that, but nothing springs to mind.

Re:A word to the editors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564726)

READ THE DAMN ARTICLE BEFORE


That would be the article that requests a cookie to be set, and when declined, redirects you to a page saying cookies must be enabled to read this article.

"Idiotic webmaster" is the first thought that comes to mind. Closely followed by "clueless".

Re:A word to the editors (3, Insightful)

fmaxwell (249001) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565005)

That would be the article that requests a cookie to be set, and when declined, redirects you to a page saying cookies must be enabled to read this article.

They want to set a cookie, not install a virus on your system. I simply cannot believe that anyone still has the tell-me-about-each-and-every-cookie option checked. If you are that paranoid, there are programs out there that auto-delete cookies. But you probably would not trust them, either, would you?

Their page. Their article. Their terms. What's so complicated about that?

Re:A word to the editors (2)

arkanes (521690) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565095)

Yeah, I agree, but I find people who enforce cookies where there's no techincal requirement for one suspicious. If they're doing it to aid in tracking repeat visits rather than just hits, fine, but the number of people who won't take the cookie won't be large enough to toss off the numbers. And a site that FORCES me to take a cookie, unless there's an obvious need, like personalized content, is probably a site I won't revisit.

What about the submitter? (1)

fizbin (2046) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564807)

I also must wonder about the people who submit things like this - are they trying to make the editors look like idiots, or are they honestly this confused after hearing about the article? (Since if they read the article, someone else might submit it before them and get the credit)

Re: The court didn't say you can't copyright an FA (-1, Troll)

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Re: The court didn't say you can't copyright an FA (2, Interesting)

GdoL (460833) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564511)

Sure a FAQ can be copyrighted, its contents that is. If you build a FAQ with answers from copyright material, like citations from books, blueprints of a car, tc. this wil be copyrighted.

Even the FAQ presentation can be protected, as intelectual creation.

Re: The court didn't say you can't copyright an FA (3, Informative)

grytpype (53367) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565153)

I hate to read articles about legal issues on Slashdot, because they often show no understanding of the issues at all. Really, you should stick to technical and pop cultural issues.

As the parent correctly states, the court did not say FAQs are not copyrightable, it said there was no copyright infringment in this case. Here is the gist of the article (pasted):

According to the court, "when the two works are compared side-by-side, similarities are evident." That is because "both web pages utilize the Frequently Asked Questions format," "both web pages use common words to begin each question, such as 'how,' 'can,' 'is,' 'what,' and 'will,'" and because "both web pages focus on a spray-on form of sunless tanning" and "provide similar information."

Notwithstanding the foregoing similarities, the court held that "these superficial similarities fall short of proving copying" because they are not the equivalent of copying constituent elements of the work that are original. According to the court and prior case law, regardless of the "original authorship" contained in a work, "the facts and ideas it exposes are free for the taking."

3rd! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564266)

3rd p0st

It's (mostly) about verbatim copying (2, Informative)

shilly (142940) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564270)

According to the report, most of the reason for the decision was to do with the fact that there wasn't evidence of wholesale copying. There's only one paragraph in the report suggesting that FAQs in general can't be copyrighted, and my gut instinct says that something couldn't *not* be copyrighted merely because it's a FAQ. It would be the context and content of the FAQ that would determine whether it could be copyrighted.

Re:It's (mostly) about verbatim copying (2, Informative)

Knoxvill3 (578169) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564308)

In most cases, especially when dealing with computers and end users average computer ability, how do you write a FAQ that can't be claimed as being copied verbatim and/or vice versa? I mean, there are so few ways to a frequently asked question. Such as:

Q: I recieve a Non System Disk error everytime I boot my machine?
A: Remove Floppy from Drive A: and press any key to continue.

disclaimer: I know there are other causes of this error, this is the most common and is only given to serve as an example. Therefore, don't go on a tagent trying to elaborate. =)

So with that given, how can you write that differently than the 1,000's of other sites who carry the same question in their respective FAQ's?

Which leaves me with the notion that a lot of today's companies are run by would-be, or even failed, Lawyers. I mean, look at all the time they like spending in courtrooms bickering over lawsuits.

Re:It's (mostly) about verbatim copying (1)

shilly (142940) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564399)

The answer is obvious: you don't look at individual lines, you look at context and content of the whole FAQ. As I said in the body text, it's about wholesale copying. Copyright has always been about wholesale copying.

Re:It's (mostly) about verbatim copying (0)

BaconLT (555713) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564433)

I guess your example would be allowed to be copyrighted because it's not, technically a question. It would have to be on the FMQSWQ (frequently mentioned quiery statements with questionmarks).

Just kidding... good point I guess you can't really copyright a phrase like, "my bad," either, because every idiot says it when they forget somebody's name... but you could copyright a story in which a character repeatedly uses popular idiums and slang cliches, right?

Uniqueness of content (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564543)

I imagine that the uniqueness of content would be an issue, given the generic nature of the products involved (spray on sun tan lotion). On other hand, an FAQ on a unique situation could be very differnt depending on the author.

a FAQ on someone like Bill Gates, or Bill Clinton, or GWB, etc would vary greatly depending on the viewpoint of the author. With points for style, this would certainly make it copyrightable.

Morons (1)

jezreel (261337) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564271)

I'm unable to see the economic advantage for Mist-On to ban the other party's FAQ. I'm unable to understand why this went to court and wasted tax-dollars.

But I'm happily able to smile that they got bashed. I wonder how long it'll take until you can copyright your everyday phrases or your dinner-prayer.... sad

Ask scientologists! They'll know if prayers... N/T (1)

MickLinux (579158) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564349)

N/T means no text.

Please Don't Post "N/T" Messages. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564590)

"N/T", "Me too!", "<G>", and "Where can I find naked pix of Britney Spears" responses were ALL copyrighted by AOL, Inc. several years back and are routinely used by their statisticians to gather data on the online posting habits of the profoundly stupid.

Please respect their claim to prior art.

Article (4, Informative)

martyn s (444964) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564272)

For some reason this site won't let you read the article if you don't accept cookies.

"For every frequently asked question (FAQ) there is an answer. And with respect to the question whether FAQs posted on Web sites are deserving of copyright protection, Judge Barbara B. Crabb, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, in the case Mist-On Systems, Inc. v. Gilley's European Tan Spa, on May 2 answered "no." Thus, it appears that lawsuits designed to snuff out the competition by seeking to attack Web content such as FAQs may fail, and if anything, may embolden competitors.

THE ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff Mist-On Systems alleged that defendant Gilley's European Tan Spa infringed on its exclusive rights under the Copyright Act by preparing and displaying on its Web page a page that mirrored the FAQ page on Mist-On's Web site. Mist-On sought monetary and injunctive relief from Gilley's based on the "irreparable harm" it had suffered.

THE COMPETING WEB SITES

Mist-On's Web page, entitled "Mist-On Tanning Frequently Asked Questions," consisted of a single page of 19 questions about the Mist-On Tanning process and provided other related hints.

Gilley's Web page, entitled Gilley's European Tan Spa "FAQ's Sunless Express Spray Spa," comprised three pages of operating instructions and 16 questions about the Sunless Express Spray Spa.

According to the court, "when the two works are compared side-by-side, similarities are evident." That is because "both web pages utilize the Frequently Asked Questions format," "both web pages use common words to begin each question, such as 'how,' 'can,' 'is,' 'what,' and 'will,'" and because "both web pages focus on a spray-on form of sunless tanning" and "provide similar information."

THE COURT'S RULING

Notwithstanding the foregoing similarities, the court held that "these superficial similarities fall short of proving copying" because they are not the equivalent of copying constituent elements of the work that are original. According to the court and prior case law, regardless of the "original authorship" contained in a work, "the facts and ideas it exposes are free for the taking."

Taking it a step further, the court held that "a business cannot copyright a Frequently Asked Questions page" or the words or phrases that comprise such a page because "the format of a Frequently Asked Questions page is a common idea in our society." Indeed, "the elements of a Frequently Asked Questions page (a list of questions beginning with common words) are stereotypical."

Ultimately, Mist-On agreed that it could not copyright the idea of a FAQ page. However, Mist-On argued that because the Gilley's FAQ page was so similar to the Mist-On FAQ page that there must be some copyright infringement.

The court swatted away this argument by noting the differences between the two Web pages, such as the fact that "the sequence, the wording and the number of the questions are different from each other," "five of defendants' questions are entirely unique to their page," "seven of plaintiff's questions are entirely unique to its page," and "the layout of the web page[s] is different." Moreover, "there is no truth to plaintiff's assertion that many of defendants' questions and answers are 'nearly identical' to plaintiff's."

Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment without the need for a trial in favor of defendant Gilley's.

LESSONS LEARNED

Care must be taken in taking legal steps to deal with business competition. Plainly, this particular lawsuit did not help Mist-On in its efforts to deal with competitor Gilley's. Moreover, bad facts can make bad law. Here, the decision to assert copyright infringement for Internet content such as an FAQ page might not have been wise, especially when there truly are distinctions between the Web pages at issue."

KaRMA WH0RE!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564356)

make mirrors! not copies.

you just copied a piece word for word about copyright. Are you stupid?

Re:Article (1)

RalphSlate (128202) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564735)

Did you ever think that there's a reason that the page can't be viewed with cookies off? Maybe they are trying to block people with ad-blocking software installed. You shouldn't have copied the article to /., that is wholesale copyright violation -- you're depriving them of revenue that they would have received if thousands of /.'ers went to their site.

Nice.

i think that they should be copyrightable. (0)

hashish (62254) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564273)

b/c they are a written document.

Re:i think that they should be copyrightable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564577)

Gee, thanks for your amazing legal insight!

One can short of a six-pack. (2, Insightful)

Jarvo (70205) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564277)

Well, the questions are frequently asked, so no-one really has claim of copyright on the question. The answers should be available for copyrighting, though.

Really all the judge found was that the defendant was not guilty of plagiarism (however, /me != lawyer).

I'd love to hear their argument on how it caused them "irreparable harm". Ha!

Re:One can short of a six-pack. (1)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564675)

Actually, no, that is not what the judge found. They defendant may well be guilty of intellectual plagiarism, in the sense of "copying someone else's ideas and information without proper credit." However, plagiarism in that sense is not illegal; it is merely an ethical violation (which is why, e.g., Doris Kearns Goodwin isn't being sued by the writers she forgot to cite in one of her books). Plagiarism can even be the result of a mistake (see DKG again; it's clear that her plagiarism wasn't intentional). The copyright law only applies to the form of the expression, and on this count the judge found the plaintiff's claims wanting.

It's the IDEA of FAQ not copyrightable (5, Informative)

Seth Finkelstein (90154) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564278)

It's the idea of the FAQ which was at issue. A particular FAQ might be copyrightable. But the specific FAQ was not a copyright infringement.

Per the article [law.com]:
(and this is a better link too!)

Ultimately, Mist-On agreed that it could not copyright the idea of a FAQ page. However, Mist-On argued that because the Gilley's FAQ page was so similar to the Mist-On FAQ page that there must be some copyright infringement.

The court swatted away this argument by noting the differences between the two Web pages, such as the fact that "the sequence, the wording and the number of the questions are different from each other," "five of defendants' questions are entirely unique to their page," "seven of plaintiff's questions are entirely unique to its page," and "the layout of the web page[s] is different." Moreover, "there is no truth to plaintiff's assertion that many of defendants' questions and answers are 'nearly identical' to plaintiff's."

Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project (censorware.org) [sethf.com]

Re:It's the IDEA of FAQ not copyrightable (2)

commodoresloat (172735) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564415)

It's the idea of the FAQ which was at issue.

I don't think this was ever seriously at issue, since in legal terms everyone agrees that ideas cannot be copyrighted. Only actual copy can; i.e. something written down. Now, the idea of a FAQ could probably be patented, but that would probably be a very different case.

Heh... Imagine owning a patent on FAQs, RTFMs, RFCs. If you tried to collect you'd be able to piss off the entire Internet in one fell swoop! Unisys, are you guys game?

Re:It's the IDEA of FAQ not copyrightable (1)

Steve Franklin (142698) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564619)

"Moreover, 'there is no truth to plaintiff's assertion that many of defendants' questions and answers are "nearly identical" to plaintiff's.'"

This does, however, fly in the face of the modernist educational idea that there really is no absolute correct answer to any question. Obviously, if two FAQ writers come up with similar answers to similar questions, there must be some common determinable reality behind the answers to the questions.

RTFA! (1)

TheOldFart (578597) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564279)

A FAQ as a collection of questions and answers is copyrightable as any other "collection". This is not the case. Read the article and you will see that the case is about duplicating (and not even all of it) the ideas. It is the equivalent of the contents of the messages stored on /. servers (the collection of messages) versus offering another web site with similar format.

I smell loophole! (2, Offtopic)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564286)


Care to release information about the weaknesses of an insecure networking scheme a company refuses to address, details on how your favorite video game console functions, or the inner workings of a local cult? Make it into a FAQ!

;^)

Ryan Fenton

P.S. Yes, I realize this ain't the way it would really be accepted legally - but one can dream.

Another ASK SLASHDOT! YAY! Reply within: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564290)

Can MORONACY be COPYRIGHTED(TM)?

Here comes another gay and trite ask-Slashdot [© Rob "THE LOSER" Malda] fucking fiasco. This is the lamest of all sections here.

It will be loaded with faggoty IANAL [© Slashfag User community] acronyms, which I fucking hate, and categorically deprecate.

If you aren't a lawyer in this case, or don't know how to read, or don't know how to use GOOGLE © ® (TM) [google.com], this article is going to be full of lame conjecture, completely uninformed detritus polluting your screen.

This is utter crap. I call upon the powers that be to strike down with great anger and fury at the Slashdot editors, for they know nothing, they care not for you, and they don't deserve employment, and hopefully this Malda-BLOG can be turned over to hobbyist (who is hopefully already wealthy) and not some skin headed ad-whore who sells his community to the marketing scum for a profit.

Slashdot, Where Editors come to SUCK © ® (TM)

Obvious sarcasm (2, Funny)

henben (578800) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564291)

>Are FAQs copywritable? Sure they are. Just use the "cp" command or try dragging the icon into another folder. If you still have trouble, you need to check your file permissions. Oh, "copyrightable."

There's no difference (2, Insightful)

Saib0t (204692) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564292)

A FAQ is a series of questions and answers, a sort of dialogue someone created that other read in which they find answers to their questions. It may be that the questions were submitted by someone, then again it may not. And even then, maybe the person who wrote the FAQ reformulated the questions.

In any case, a FAQ is something someone has written, and all forms of creation are (well, should be) subject to copyright.

But the case dealt with is this:

Plaintiff Mist-On Systems alleged that defendant Gilley's European Tan Spa infringed on its exclusive rights under the Copyright Act by preparing and displaying on its Web page a page that mirrored the FAQ page on Mist-On's Web site. Mist-On sought monetary and injunctive relief from Gilley's based on the "irreparable harm" it had suffered.
(read more to find out)

This decision does not say that FAQs are not subject to copyright though, but that there was no copyright infringement:

According to the court, "when the two works are compared side-by-side, similarities are evident." That is because "both web pages utilize the Frequently Asked Questions format," "both web pages use common words to begin each question, such as 'how,' 'can,' 'is,' 'what,' and 'will,'" and because "both web pages focus on a spray-on form of sunless tanning" and "provide similar information."

So the title of the article is misleading, the court just ruled that there was no copyright infringement because the 2 FAQs were different...

Let's move on... But I think the editors should have taken the time to read the article

"didn't think so" (4, Insightful)

happyclam (564118) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564298)

Even though others have clarified the ruling, I think it's worth noting (again?) that the judge did NOT think FAQs were not "copyrightable." In fact, the copy right of any work is automatically bestowed upon the author, but there is a formal procedure as well for registering a copyright.

The judge ruled that there was no copyright infringement. This ruling does not, in any way, imply that FAQs do not deserve copyright protection. It does, however, set the bar reasonably high for proving copyright infringement for a FAQ-style document.

This is a Good Thing. FAQs on vendors'/retailers sites will often have similar information. Think of the thousands of companies that install windows, or who sell nutritional products or cleaning products or pretty much anything manufactured by someone else. Two competitors could reasonably come up with very similar FAQs about that product category and its use, completely independent of each other.

The good news here is that the Court ruled in a reasonable manner, which we might hope will continue when the CBDTPA hits it in a few years...

someone stole my sig!

Re:"didn't think so" (3)

nagora (177841) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564346)

there is a formal procedure as well for registering a copyright.

In the UK this is just writing "copyright " on the item.

What is the formal procedure in the US?

TWW

Re:"didn't think so" (3, Informative)

rde (17364) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564523)

There's no formal procedure - in the UK or the US. If you write it, it's yours.
If you so desire, you can register it with a copyright agency (such as this one [copyrightservice.co.uk] in the UK), but that's only to establish precedence in case someone claims to have written your stuff before you did. Of course, if you're that paranoid, sending a copy to yourself by registered mail and not opening it is just as safe - and probably a lot cheaper.

Re:"didn't think so" (2)

jockm (233372) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564860)

IANAL, but in the US you cannot sue to recover court costs or punative damages unless you formally register your copyright with the Library or Congress.

Mailing a copy to yourself is only (somewhat) usefull in proving whose claim is older. In every real way formally registering is the better way to go.

Re:"didn't think so" (4, Informative)

texchanchan (471739) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564524)

From a non-lawyer. As I understand it, your work is copyrighted
- Informally by having been written. Automatic copyright.
- Informally, but legally, by putting Copyright (c) year by name.
- Formally by sending $34 and a copy of the work to the Library of Congress copyright department.

Re:"didn't think so" (4, Informative)

Gleef (86) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564580)

Yes, you get copyright whether you formally register it or not. There are two advantages to formally registering it (at least in the US):
  • You get paperwork regarding when the document was written that makes excellent evidence if a lawsuit arises regarding your copyright.
  • You are entitled to sue for more in damages if your copyright is threatened.
Basically, if you care enough about your work that you would be willing to defend your copyright in court, you should consider registering it. If you are formally publishing the work, you definately should consider registering it.

I am also not a lawyer, the above should not be interpreted as legal advice.

Re:"didn't think so" (1, Redundant)

happyclam (564118) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564746)

Here are the exact words from the FAQ [copyright.gov] of the Library of Congress [loc.gov]:

How do I register my copyright?
To register a work, you need to submit a completed application form, a non-refundable filing fee of $30, and a non-returnable copy or copies of the work to be registered. See Circular 1, section Registration Procedures [loc.gov].

...and...

HOW TO SECURE A COPYRIGHT
Copyright Secured Automatically upon Creation
The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. (See following Note.) There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration. See "Copyright Registration."

Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. "Copies" are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. "Phonorecords" are material objects embodying fixations of sounds (excluding, by statutory definition, motion picture soundtracks), such as cassette tapes, CDs, or LPs. Thus, for example, a song (the "work") can be fixed in sheet music (" copies") or in phonograph disks (" phonorecords"), or both.

If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work that is fixed on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that date.

and later...

COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION
In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:
  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U. S. origin.
  • If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
  • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For additional information, request Publication No. 563 "How to Protect Your Intellectual Property Right," from: U.S. Customs Service, P.O. Box 7404, Washington, D.C. 20044. See the U.S. Customs Service Website at www.customs.gov for online publications.
Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered in unpublished form, it is not necessary to make another registration when the work becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published edition, if desired.

Re:"didn't think so" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564546)

someone stole my sig!

You should have copyrighted it.

certainly are they copyrighted (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564299)

Every written document is automatically copyrighted.

Well duh (2)

Bastian (66383) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564300)

FAQs are commonplace - they've been around for at least a decade, and it'd be pretty damn hard to get a copyright for the idea of something that has probably been around since before you got plugged into the Internet.

Much better to write an OAQ (Often Asked Questions) document, since nobody's done that before. Then you can get your lousy copyright.

Re:Well duh (1)

aderuwe (539595) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564303)

You are talking about patents, not copyright. Copyright just means 'I wrote this, so do not republish without permission'.

Re:Well duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564315)

Actually it's pretty hard to copyright an idea at all - you can't. That's what patents are for.

Re:Well duh (2)

shd99004 (317968) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564321)

If some person had a patent on FAQs, then noone else could make their own FAQs. But the idea of a FAQ is not patented (as far as I know) and can not be copyrighted. However, a specific FAQ can be copyrighted, but that doesn't stop anyone else from making their own, just that they can not copy others.

Good (2, Insightful)

bythescruff (522831) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564309)

According to the court and prior case law, regardless of the "original authorship" contained in a work, "the facts and ideas it exposes are free for the taking."

FAQ's benefit everyone. They're collections of information, often resulting from many users' experiences over time, and they can be an extremely valuable resource. Although the chap who gathers the information together and presents it might well feel a bit miffed if you copied his FAQ and its style exactly without his permission, trying to prevent someone from distributing a FAQ helps no one.

As has been mentioned once or twice on Slashdot, copyright protection is supposed to benefit the public, not particular individuals.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564461)

It is true that FAQs are damn useful in most cases ... they are simple, effective and have been around for about as long as I can remember ... and I always got the impression that their authors were putting them out as a service (almost a favor) for the visitors ... of course there are vested commercial interests in informing visitors (or customers) about relevant topics... But the real bummer about issues like this one is that I see the spirit of collaboration upon which the 'internet community' (or whatever you want to call it) was built is slowly eroding ... its sad a bit ...

Deliberately deceptive headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564311)

Nothing really to do with copyright of faqs, which is not in anyway affected by this ruling - even if you were within the court's jurisdiction.

More a comment on the frivolous suite brought by Mist-On against a competitor.

*cackle* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564325)

Q: How can I be sued for this?
A: You can't, unless some fucking jerk think he/she can get money from it.

Where's the correct article? (4, Interesting)

Florian Weimer (88405) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564326)

The submitter of the story obviously linked to the wrong article.

The court says that the idea of an FAQ is not copyrightable (good thing), that a list of common questions relating to a certain subject is not copyrightable (good thing), and that in this particular case, the answers where so different that they weren't infringing (we haven't got the lists for side-by-side comparison, so this remains unclear, but there sin't something fishy about it in itself).

To me, it seems that the court made a reasonable decision. In particular, it did not rule that FAQs (which usually include the answers) are never protected by copyright.

Re:Where's the correct article? (1)

smiff (578693) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564967)

Well, here [mist-on.com] is the Mist-On FAQ. I can't seem to find a web site for Gilley's European Tan Spa.

I looks like the litigation-happy folks at Mist-On are patent-loving [mist-on.com] jerks. I hate them already.

Lame site. (0, Redundant)

binford2k (142561) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564332)

They won't let you read w/o accepting cookies. Here is my email to webmaster@law.com.

> Browser Error
> Sorry.You must have cookies enabled to enjoy this site. Please adjust this setting in your browser
> preferences. If you are using Internet Explorer, go to Tools, Internet Options, Security, Custom
> Level and select 'Enable Cookies'. If you are using Netscape, go to Edit, Preferences, Advanced
> and select 'Accept all Cookies' from your the options. Law.com uses cookies to provide better
> and more personalized service to you. For more detailed information regarding the use of
> cookies, see our Privacy Policy.

Site Error
Sorry, you must not make lame and illogical claims, nor demand that I give up a piece of my privacy to have me read your site. Please adjust your page by removing the offending Javascript snippet below from /law/ips_init.js. I refuse cookies because I have no need for "better and more personalized service." For more information regarding my cookie policy, please see the following URL: http://www.junkbusters.com/cookies.html

-b

document.cookie="cookiecheck=truevalue"
var temp = document.cookie;
if(temp=="")
{
document.locati on="/law/bad_cookie.html" ;
}

p.s. Lame "lameness filter" too.

Re:Lame site. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564368)

You should have just copied the cookies FAQ! :)

Re:Lame site. (1)

compuserf (316220) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564448)

Using Opera 6 on Win98SE, identified as Opera with cookies fully enabled, I had the same problem. Maybe not intentional, but annoying. It all worked ok in Mozilla on Linux.

patents (3, Funny)

phunhippy (86447) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564334)

Great! So how long before we discover FAQ's format have actually been granted a Patent by the USPO to some lucky individual out there ;)

persecution complex, anyone? (5, Insightful)

SmittyTheBold (14066) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564347)

You know, the /. crowd houses an alarming number of alarmists. I mean, it's good and all that people are ever-vigilant, yadda yadda, but areound here alert is raised just to be called off fully half the time.

If the editors edited instead of simply relaying common memes, maybe this problem would go away. At least a little bit.

Re:persecution complex, anyone? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564364)

I completely agree with you, its called horde mentality.

Re:persecution complex, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564513)

I'd prefer if you referred to it as GNU/Horde mentality, otherwise you're undermining all the hard work of the GNU team and you're a TRAITOR against Free Software.

What is the world coming to... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564353)

... when the courts made a reasonable and fair judgement. Next people will be saying that M$ is not always wrong... [slashdot.org]

FAQ held for liable (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564406)

I don't think I've every worked for a company that puts up real FAQ's, there all made up. ok so after a few months prohaps a couple of propper FAQ's appear but things like,
'How can I best leverage Microsofts licensing scheme to send my soul to heven' etc... shouldn't make the FAQ list.

Can I copy the slashdot faq then :) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564418)

See subj...

What about the Internet? (1)

Vodak (119225) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564419)

Well this thing makes me sick. I think I should get the phrase "The internet" copyrighted before someone else does. Hey stupider things have happened.

Here are the two FAQ's. (5, Informative)

CMU_Nort (73700) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564420)


I don't know what the hell Mist-On was thinking except for trying to eliminate competition. These FAQ's are hardly anything alike.

http://www.mist-on.com/faq.htm [mist-on.com]

http://www.gilleystanspa.com/content/sunless.htm#s prayspa [gilleystanspa.com]

Re:Here are the two FAQ's. (2)

bwt (68845) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565194)

This was an absurd lawsuit. I hope the plaintiffs have to pay for the D's attourney fees.

-The idea and Q&A format of an FAQ is not copyrightable (not original, idea, etc...)
-It is unlikely that any particular question statement of a "Frequently Asked Question" is original to the authors of the FAQ anyway
-The idea and facts embodied in an answer are also not copyrightable

On the other hand, some elements of a particular FAQ probably are copyrightable:
- The exact choice and order of the questions might be copyrightable in some cases if it truly was the result of some creative selection process by the author. On the other hand, if it is just a record of the order of questions asked by others in a particular forum, it wouldn't qualify. Here, the select and order of questions vary between the two FAQ's, so this isn't an issue.
- The exact expression of the answers, especially when treated as a group. This is clearly original work of the author(s) of the FAQ. Here, the exact expression was not copied, so this isn't an issue.

Intepretation of court ruling ... (4, Informative)

LL (20038) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564455)

... is that you cannot protect an extrinsic convention (in this case a Question/Answer format). This is in contrast with other interpretations such as databases where the facts may be public (e.g. sports scores) but they've ruled that schemas and intrinsic data structures can be protected. This is a ruling that follows common sense as the parties indepedently constructed their FAQs and it would be unconciousable to extinguish one or the other.

FAQs are a common industry custom, and much like man-pages follow a certain format, is based on expectations of that that information is intended to achieve. After all, similar intentions for a well-defined domain usually result in similar solutions. In this case attempting to use one legal concept (exclusive right to duplicate original copy) to achieve anti-competitive outcomes was rejected. There res decidendi (or question in conflict) was not relevant to copyright.

I hope some of the principles from this case can be moved over to the software patent domain. The reversal of historical application of patents as defensive shield towards modern offensive tactics (business process patent), is creating outcomes contrary to the original intent. When companies prepared to use new technology are esstoped from deployment by pure IP hurdles (cough*RamBus*cough) or other nuisance patents (cough*oneClick*cough), then perhaps it is worthwhile reconsidering redefining the bar to innovation.

Perhaps OpenSource could then be described as a defensive legal tactic ... if it appears in an open forum then perhaps that establishes prior art which cannot be claimed as proprietary technology.

LL

Let's get this straight. (1)

Boss, Pointy Haired (537010) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564498)

The _content_ of FAQs are as copyrightable as anything else.

The question "Can an FAQ be copyrightable?" is just completely meaningless and wrong.

It's like asking "Can I transfer my car from my home to the mall over HTTP?"

Sweat of the brow (4, Informative)

BreakWindows (442819) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564501)

This seems like it would fall under Feist v Rural Telephone Company, the "facts and 'sweat of the brow' cannot be copyrighted" ruling. In that, they found a phonebook was not copyrightable, as the information was not original and publically available. A FAQ is similar; "writing" one consists of copy and paste, and by that ruling can't be considered an original work.

http://www.bitlaw.com/source/cases/copyright/feist . tml [bitlaw.com]

Re:Sweat of the brow (1)

hyperizer (123449) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565290)

If you read the article, you'd see this isn't the case. They didn't find that a FAQ is not copyrightable. They found that the idea of a FAQ is not copyrightable.

A FAQ is similar; "writing" one consists of copy and paste, and by that ruling can't be considered an original work.

I guess some Usenet FAQs work this way, where answers consist of someone else's post, but most FAQs on corporate sites have questions and answers that are carefully written and original. I know--I've written a few.

Judge for yourself (3, Informative)

stain ain (151381) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564503)

Link to Mist-on's FAQ on google cache [google.com].
And find here the alleged copy, Gilley's FAQ on google [google.com].

What do you think? To me, the only thing they have in common is the question marks, and that's not copyright infrigement.

C'mon, is this a slashdot topic? (2)

serutan (259622) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564542)

Somebody tried to sue a competitor for copyright infringement and lost. The court ruled that the material was sufficiently different that there was no infringement. Zzzzzzzz.

Coming up next: Boy Falls in Lake, Climbs Out Wet.

um...FAQ's ARE copyrightable... (2, Informative)

Drunken_Jackass (325938) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564549)

If the content of the FAQ is not soomething like "What causes a sunburn?"

From the article: "...the facts and ideas it exposes are free for the taking."

So if you right a FAQ about something general like 10 FAQ's about tanning, then of course the content isn't copyright protected, unless of course, you have unique information about some factor of tanning.

That's not to say that if your FAQ's are about a specific application or process that you've developed (which a lot of FAQ's are built to answer) that your FAQ would not be copyright protected.

The headline Are FAQs copywritable? is totally dependant upon the content of the FAQ, not the fact that it is an FAQ.

Re:um...FAQ's ARE copyrightable... (1)

Dusabre (176445) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565160)

"So if you right a FAQ about something general like 10 FAQ's about tanning, then of course the content isn't copyright protected, unless of course, you have unique information about some factor of tanning."

Not true. General/unique, it doesn't matter what the content is. Anything that isn't an exact copy of a previous combination of words and layout is copyright protected. Even if there are no new ideas

A little trick (1)

pellemell (135041) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564551)

Ok, so if you want to ignore the copyrigt on something just use my litte script:
cat > nocopy.sed
1i\
FAQ:
And then cat whatever | sed -f nocopy.sed
© pellemell [pellemell.nu] 2002 All rights reserved ;-)

Damn secondary sources (2)

CaseStudy (119864) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564591)

Would it have killed the guy to give a proper cite? I can't seem to find the actual case to read what it said.

"Are FAQs copywritable?" (2)

cswiii (11061) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564598)

Jeebus, it's "copyright".

Seriously, a copywriter [dictionary.com] and a copyrighter [dictionary.com] have two completely different jobs.

Can you write copy for a FAQ? I suppose. Can you copyright a FAQ? I haven't the foggiest.

Bitch and moan all you want, this isn't little grammar issue I'm pointing out. A misused word, in this case, completely changes the meaning of the question.

At least the editors got this one right in the title.

The REAL cause for alarm.. (2, Funny)

TrebleJunkie (208060) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564755)

I think that the real cause for alarm in all this is that there are people out there that *NEED* a frequently-asked questions list for a tanning spray.

Who owns the copywrite? (1)

Penguinoflight (517245) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564763)

If I send you a FAQ, and you decide to include it, how can you copywrite it? Wouldn't that be taking away some of my (or whoever asks the faq) inellectual property? As a country we are taking more and more rights from companies, and giving them to big companies with tons of lawyers. Maybe we need to have a law against more than 5 lawyers per company :-) (it would break up M$ pretty quick ;-)

I like Slashdot's policy of "Copywrite 2002, comments are property of their posters"

DMCA FAQ? (0)

oldstrat (87076) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564767)

I'll probably get moded down for off topic on this, but...
If DECSS information were FAQ'tified would it pass muster against DMCA, since it would apparently pass the copyright issue based on this case. Or are we screwed because of the clandestine Trade Secrets laws?

i dont see. (1)

BenTheDewpendent (180527) | more than 11 years ago | (#3564856)

I dont see why not. It is a work generated by an indivdual or company.

even if a survey or data gathering process is used to find the FAQs. Plenty of other companys have copyrights on there graphs and data which was gathered via survey or stats.

Its just why to would one want to copyright FAQs?

The lawyer's lesson is different than ours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3564940)

Notice the little moral of the story for lawyers at the end. I re-read that several times to make sure I got it...if I'm reading right it's pukey.

"Bad facts make bad law...", it's too bad for the lawyers, one whole set of cases they can no longer profit from. The facts of this case were too weak essentially to lead to a stringent enforcement of copyright law for generic material, clearly bad for the lawyers :-).

Is it a stretch to ask from this just how copyrightable are sports scores, for example?

Here is what Mist -On is all about... (1)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565092)

This [mist-on.com] is their stupid FAQ. Here [mist-on.com] is where they really shine. It looks to me that mist on is a pretty sue-happy company. You will also find references to patents and lawsuits on the humor and press pages. Ironically, I've seen the map they use on their locations page somewhere else.

They can't? (0, Redundant)

evilpaul13 (181626) | more than 11 years ago | (#3565211)

I'd think that they should be...

They aren't just stating facts (like a phonebook), so there is original writing which is creative.

Details: FAQs were not identical, anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3565235)

The defendent had 5 q's on their FAQ that the plaintiff did not, and the plaintiff had 7 q's on theirs that the defendent did not. The judge said that not a single question on the defendent's faq was "nearly identical" to the plaintiffs faq. All in all, this was not a case of cut-and-paste. If it had been, the judge may have ruled differently.
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