Google's Copying of Map Data Didn't Infringe Creator's Copyright

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By Joseph Wright
Dec. 15 — The individual points of interest contained in a Global Positioning System database were uncopyrightable facts, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held Dec. 14 (PhantomALERT, Inc. v. Google, Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:15-cv-03986-JCS, 12/14/15).

Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero said the traffic condition and speed trap information in the GPS app consisted of objectively discoverable facts, even to the extent it was intentionally seeded with false data to identify infringers.
The database as a whole is copyrightable as a compilation with at least modicum of creativity, the court said following Feist Publ'ns Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340 (U.S. 1991). But the app maker only asserted that defendant Waze Inc. incorporated individual points of interest into its own database in modified form—not that it copied the app maker's creative selection of data.

The decision demonstrated a catch-22 for parties seeking to protect data through copyright law. Individual bits of copied data aren't protected under copyright law, but collective data can't receive protection if incorporated into a new, modified compilation by the end user.

Plaintiff PhantomALERT Inc. brought copyright infringement claims against Waze and its parent company Google Inc. PhantomALERT provides “Points of Interest” in its GPS database, and it seeds its data with fakes in order to detect infringement.

PhantomALERT claimed that its seeded data showed up in Waze's GPS database, and that Google integrated that data into its own mapping program.

Google moved to dismiss the claims, arguing the database and the underlying information weren't subject to copyright protection.

The most analogous precedent, the court said, was Assessment Techs. of WI LLC v. Wiredata Inc., 350 F.3d 640 (7th Cir. 2003) (8 ECLR 1121, 12/10/03). In Assessment Technologies, the extraction of raw data from a database for a company to sort differently according to its own needs wasn't found to violate copyrights in the original database. Any intermediate copying done to extract the data was a fair use, the Seventh Circuit held.

Similarly, in this case, the court said, copying PhantomALERT's raw data regarding individual points of interest didn't implicate the company's protectable interest in the arrangement of the entire database.

The court also found that the seeded data allegations were sufficient to plead that Google had access to PhantomALERT's data.

The court gave PhantomALERT the opportunity to replead that Google infringed on one of its protectable interests.
Kronenberger Rosenfeld LLP represented PhantomALERT. Durie Tangri LLP represented Waze and Google.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Wright in Washington at jwright@bna.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Thomas O'Toole at totoole@bna.com