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Assessment Technologies of WI v. WIREdata

Assessment Technologies of WI, LLC v WIREdata, Inc.
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Opinion by Judge Posner
350 F.3d 640 ((lex:350 F.3d 640)

Facts of the Case: WIREdata sought to obtain information regarding specific properties for use by its real estate brokers. The desired data was collected by Wisconsin municipalities for tax assessment purposes. Specifically, Wisconsin tax assessors collect the data and enter it into a computer program developed by Assessment Technologies of WI, LLC (“AT”), which collects and groups the data. (The copyright at issue in this case is the compilation of data created by the software.) This data is a matter of public record pursuant to Wisconsin law. Nonetheless, three municipalities, each a licensee of AT, refused to provide WIREdata with the requested information for fear of violating copyright law. WIREdata initiated a suit in state court in an effort to force divulgence of the requested information. Thereafter, AT filed the instant suit “to stop WIREdata from making such demands of the municipalities and seeking to enforce them by litigation.”

Procedural Posture: This case is an appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Plaintiff Assessment Technologies (“AT”) brought this suit against Defendant WIREdata for copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court issued a permanent injunction against WIREdata.

Issue: Whether the owner of a compilation copyright has the right to prevent its customers, those with licensees to the copyrighted material, from disclosing the underlying compiled data where the data is in the public domain. (No.)

Holding: Data in the public domain is not copyrightable. Nevertheless, where a compilation of that data is made, it may be copyrightable. However, parties still have a right to access the non-copyrightable works. Here, the judgment is reversed with instructions to vacate the injunction and dismiss the copyright infringement claim.

Important Dicta: “AT would lose this copyright case even if the raw data were so entangled with (AT’s software) that they could not be extracted without making a copy of the program. The case would then be governed by Sega Enterprises Ltd v. Accolade, Inc., 977 F.2d 1510, 1520¬-28 (9th Cir. 1992).” In Sega, the court determined that this “’intermediate copying’ of the operating system was fair use, since the only effect of enjoining it would be to give Sega control over noninfringing products.” According to the Seventh Circuit, if the only way for WIREdata to get the data was to copy AT’s information, compilation and all, including organization and format, such copying would be permissible “for the only purpose of the copying would be to extract non-copyrighted material, and not to go into competition with AT by selling copies of (AT’s software).”

Good Analogy: “It would be like Westlaw licensee’s copying the text of a federal judicial opinion that he found in the Westlaw opinion database and giving it to someone else. Westlaw’s compilation of federal judicial opinions is copyrighted and copyrightable because it involves discretionary judgments regarding selection and arrangement. But the opinions themselves are in the public domain . . . and so Westlaw cannot prevent its licensees from copying the opinions themselves as distinct from the aspects of the database that are copyrighted.”

Critical Analysis: Here, the court acknowledges that the municipalities would infringe on AT’s copyright rights if AT were to give WIREdata the requested information in the form that AT compiled it, 456 fields grouped into 34 tables. Here, however, WIREdata does not seek the compiled data. Rather, it seeks the underlying data. Furthermore, WIREdata is not in the same business as AT, making tax assessments, and instead only wants the raw data collected by the assessors to aid its real estate brokers. The raw data is in the public domain and is not protected by copyright law. (Thus, AT has “no ownership or other legal interest in the data collected by the assessor.”) The court does not state specifically how the raw data should be extracted from the AT software. Rather, the court states “all that matters is that the process of extracting the raw data from the database does not involve copying (AT’s software), or creating, as AT mysteriously asserts, a derivative work.”

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