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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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  • FORTRAN (Score:5, Funny)

    by pilsner.urquell ( 734632 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @08:12AM (#28826073)
    FORTRAN awful? Give me a break.

    • Re:FORTRAN (Score:5, Funny)

      by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @08:22AM (#28826107) Journal

      Integer*16 I

      Real*4 Still

      Real*4 Think

      Integer*16 In

      Real*4 Fortran

      C you insensitive clod!

    • Re:FORTRAN (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @08:25AM (#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.

      • Re:FORTRAN (Score:5, Informative)

        by MaskedSlacker ( 911878 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @02:51PM (#28828701)

        I used to work solely in FORTRAN for simulation work. The big advantage of Fortran90/95 over C is that the compilers are heavily optimized for doing iterated operations over every value of an array. So for say, fluid dynamics, it really is the best. I suspect you might be able achieve a similar speed in C, but that you would have to hand optimise instead (ugh).

        • by tyrione ( 134248 )

          I used to work solely in FORTRAN for simulation work. The big advantage of Fortran90/95 over C is that the compilers are heavily optimized for doing iterated operations over every value of an array. So for say, fluid dynamics, it really is the best. I suspect you might be able achieve a similar speed in C, but that you would have to hand optimise instead (ugh).

          I'd mod these comments up but I don't have the points. It's clear this site lacks Mechanical Engineers who all learned Fortran and C.

        • The main perf advantage of Fortran however was that it could automagically make use of vector machines.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      FORTRAN awful? Give me a break.



    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

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

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

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      fortran 95 is OO

  • NIST - Public Domain (Score:5, Informative)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @08:18AM (#28826089) Homepage

    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 (Score:2, Informative)

      by Mathinker ( 909784 )

      The FAQ [] 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.

      • > 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).

      • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:44AM (#28826461) Homepage

        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 [] 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Throtex ( 708974 )

          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.

          • 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.

      • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          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 a

        • 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

      • 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.

    • ...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.

      • 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.

      • 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: (Score:2, Informative)

      OTOH, Maybe they just ripped off the Koreans.

      Looks like the same info to me. []

      (But IANAP)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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]

    • by b4upoo ( 166390 )

      I think he should just go ahead and create the software. Just getting evaluations and considering all prevailing laws might be so expensive that it would ruin any hope of doing the work.
      The idea that anyone can be legally safe in almost any profession is a thing of the past. My best notion is that a person simply take into account who would likely be offended or if it seems really likely that money could be made by a legal suit and then decid

  • IRTTALIYJ (Score:3, Insightful)

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

    I Recommend Talking To A Lawyer In Your Jurisdiction.


    • I on the other hand would start by reading the EULA/Terms of Service. Maybe twice.

      • by Minwee ( 522556 )
        And then talking to a lawyer so you can find out which part of "By clicking accept you irrevocably grant ownership of your DNA and all derivative works" is really enforceable, and what that means for the rest of it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @08:45AM (#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.

  • 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.

  • by SwashbucklingCowboy ( 727629 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:01AM (#28826291)

    A database is copyrightable. See []

    • by Dipster ( 830908 )
      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.

    • But the data in it isn't, if it's something like themodynamic properties.

      See: []

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by pearl298 ( 1585049 )

      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".

  • 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 soluti
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vlm ( 69642 )

      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 acc

  • "no one can read Fortran anyway" 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.

    • 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.

    • Most languages are pretty easy to read, I'm assuming the problem is not knowing the gazillion supporting libraries inside out that's causing his problem.

  • Pirate it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The law needs a major update anyway.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:17AM (#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

    Reg Beardsley

    • by GPSguy ( 62002 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:49AM (#28826493) Homepage

      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.

      • 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...

        • 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 [] (Viktor Decyk's page [] is also quite help
    • by orzetto ( 545509 )

      [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.

    • 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 bei

      • by cdrguru ( 88047 )

        What law are you referring to? Sounds like the EU Database Directive pretty much means that NIST has a copyright on the program code and database in Germany.

        Almost nothing from NIST is free. Often what they are selling is virtually unobtainable from any other reputable source. They also charge what it costs them to produce, not as a profit center.

        What possible rights a German citizen (not a US taxpayer) might have over NIST products I wouldn't be able to say. But I suspect anyone just taking this and gi

    • 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 th

      • 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.

        Modern fortran compilers are generally maintained by the processor makers themselves. The big advantage over C (and C++ AAAAGH! I once made the mistake of writing a PDE solver in C++ in high school...never again) is that those fortran compilers are optimised for iterated operations over every value of an array (for say, when each array value is the value of a variable at a given spatial coordinate). This makes Fortran much better for at least some (most of the one's I've had to work on) calculations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bwcbwc ( 601780 )

      Items created/published by the U.S. government are in the public domain at least in the U.S. I'm not sure if the rights are granted abroad as well.

      However, items created under a contract to the U.S. government may or may not be in the public domain. There's a section of US law that companies have to invoke in their contract or the software license regarding U.S. government "limited rights" to keep their code or other work private. On the other hand, NIST DATA shouldn't be copyrightable in any case, although

  • by modrzej ( 1450687 ) <> on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:27AM (#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).

    • Many existing codes

      Spoken like a true physicist...

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

  • It looks like they are selling some database []

    And providing others for free, []

    Which one are you after? Something like this? []

    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 pr

  • 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 lan

  • Sounds proprietary to me.

  • 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?


    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

      • by Alsee ( 515537 )

        Uh, let's see now. You're going to expect all the idiots on the Internet to make precise measurements


        I'm thinking that if there is a community interested in this kind of software then *those* people may already have this sort of data already lying around somewhere.


  • 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 hardw

  • 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
  • ...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.
    • It's either copyrighted or it isn't. Nothing to do with the citizenship of the reader, ever. At least I have never seen anything like this. The only thing that comes close is reciprocity clauses where another country's copyrights are only recognized if it recognizes the other country's, but nothing based on the country of the *user*, just the work.

  • by wasabii ( 693236 )
    As a lawyer. Duh. The lawyer will probably tell you that copyright applies.
  • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:52AM (#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.

    • Ya know, for a guy who worked in a Patent office, Albert really missed out on stunning opportunity on royalties on general relativity. I'm pretty sure most countries have exemptions on copyright and patents for mathematical formulae. Mine (South Africa) sure does, and so does America []
  • 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 con

    • by puppet10 ( 84610 )

      Or in terms of people FORTRAN is the crabby old guy in the basement that knows where all the bodies are buried and all the bodges and bandaids applied over decades to make the project workable (also known as the FORTRAN Programmer ;).

  • 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)
  • 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...


  • IANAL but, the issue of the copyright status of databases has come before the Supreme Court. The issue was: is an alphabetized list copyrightable? The court said no, because the database itself did not contain originality, it just was pure information. The key fact here is whether or not the database you describe is original, or it just contains facts. From wikipedia: "The ruling of the Court was written by Justice O'Connor. It examined the purpose of copyright and explained the standard of copyrightabi
  • no one can read Fortran anyway

    You show yourself as a snob, Sir. Probably most any serious geek - including this one - will understand Fortran just fine. And given a little bit of time and money it can be rewritten into pretty much anything else since most other languages are supersets of Fortran.

  • What database? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ephraimhorse ( 707223 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:49PM (#28832103)
    All the formulation for the prediction of water properties are published by International Association for the Properties of Water and Steam (IAPWS) so that they can be used. It is often important to use exactly the same correlations so that that all the thermodynamic data are self-consistent. Therefore the formulations are standardized by an international body. I do not think that the use of this formulae is in any way restricted because such restriction would defeat the very purpose - standarization. See [] for the collection of the current formulations. There may be a restriction for a particular implementation (computer program) or sets of tables ( "lookup tables" and interpolation are often used for performance). Not sure. Hope someone starts an extension to implement these kind of things in Gnumeric. Cheers. Ephraim the horse.
  • What is the big deal? Fortran II was my first language (IBM 1620) and was very straightforward. It could have been algol or some other strange dialect.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter