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Experience:  Practicing Law Since 2000
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Copyright: is a computer app that "plugs in" to a copyrighted

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Copyright: is a computer app that "plugs in" to a copyrighted database in order to deliver a superior user interface 1) an infringing derivative work of the database software, or 2) a copyrightable work in its own right?

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Hello. Thanks for contacting us.


Just want to clarify: when speak of a "copyrighted database" do you mean the underlying software, or the data that it accesses?


The reason I ask is that the Copyright Act does not protect information, only expressions of information. Thus, the data is not copyright protected. But the software could have copyright protection for the code by which it operates (code is language and the expression language is protected if it is long enough -- which most programs are).


Thanks for clarifying. I can then respond more appropriately to your query.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I understand. I mean the underlying software. This database software has an extremely limited user interface, and the later program is an improved user interface.

Overall, my smell test has me thinking of a third party app that "plugs into" Windows....

Thanks. That helps me provide better information.


I can only describe the law -- because something specific to the way the interface works would require the kind of extensive analysis that only one's own lawyer could provide (it is just not an easy answer without analysis and technical understanding).


With that caveat, the law is like this:


Software that cracks or cuts through protections built into a database's protective software would pose a potential to violate copyright law. Here's a link to one key section of this law on "anti-circumvention."



It may be useful, also, to read about the administrative rules that augment the law. These are made by the Librarian of Congress, who is the administrative law giver for copyright. There are several rulemakings that you can access from this site:



But there is less chance that a copyright violation would occur if the technology merely enhanced the ability of someone who is a legitimate user of a database program to read the data (without cracking any codes or circumventing anti-piracy protections). This is analogous to someone using a voice generating software package to read aloud data that is normally displayed on-screen.


So really, the key issue is how the two software programs interact -- and how the one that makes the underlying program more user-friendly achieves its goals.


This is not to say that, even if something was more like a voice generator than a digital crowbar, the copyright holder for the database would not be aggressive, even overly-aggressive in trying to shut down access by the overlay software. Sometimes, there are business decisions that go that way -- and it can take money and time to then conduct a legal fight.


Please let me know if any of this information requires clarification.


I wish you every success with your venture!

Attorney Wayne, Lawyer
Satisfied Customers: 1506
Experience: Practicing Law Since 2000
Attorney Wayne and 4 other Intellectual Property Law Specialists are ready to help you
Hi again, Eric.

Just checking if you have any follow up on the copyright question. If so, please post it in the next text box. If not, please remember that experts only get paid if the customer rates them good or excellent. Thanks for your consideration in closing the question out!

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