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Copyright Status of Thermodynamic Properties? 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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Copyright Status of Thermodynamic Properties?

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  • IRTTALIYJ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @08:22AM (#28826109)

    I Recommend Talking To A Lawyer In Your Jurisdiction.


  • by Gnavpot ( 708731 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:00AM (#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.

  • Pirate it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:15AM (#28826335)
    The law needs a major update anyway.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:41AM (#28826451)

    Duh? Why is it obvious that you are a programmer?

  • by Throtex ( 708974 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:49AM (#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.

  • by LunarStudio ( 836038 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:40AM (#28826903) Homepage
    ...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.
  • Re:FEED ME (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @12:30PM (#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...

  • by Fallen Andy ( 795676 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @01:31PM (#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...


  • Re:FEED ME (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @01:42PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @01:58PM (#28828349)

    Uh, let's see now. You're going to expect all the idiots on the Internet to make precise measurements of (for example) the energy released in some chemical reaction at 357 Celcius temperature and 4.435 atmospheres of pressure?

    Are we reality-based here?

    What you want is a particular kind of crowdsourcing called "science". It tends to cost money because some people's thermomenters don't go up to 357C, so they need to buy better ones.

  • Not even close (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pestie ( 141370 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @04:53PM (#28829853) Homepage

    I don't know if you're trolling or just grossly misinformed, but that's not even close to correct. Lyrics are the copyrighted creative works of the person/people who wrote them. "Changing one word" does not allow someone else to then distribute the lyrics legally. That would be considered a "derivative work," the creation of which is a right provided to copyright holders under copyright law.

  • by Lawrence_Bird ( 67278 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:05PM (#28831871) Homepage

    If this guy can't handle reading the FORTRAN code I seriously doubt he is capable of re-inventing it in a 'new' language. FORTRAN is not that hard to understand even "old" dialects.

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