Information wants to be clearly presented in an accessible format.
June 24, 2011 6:56 AM   Subscribe

I want to create a website that presents the schedule/info of a con in a more usable format than officially provided. Is this something I should be asking a lawyer about?

My friends and I go to a lot of cons, and often want better/different schedule presentation than is provided. I decided to go ahead and create this for one of the (small, non-profit) cons, and emailed them asking if they had this data available in text form instead of just the images they put up on their site. They replied with a nasty 'you can't use our trademarked data like that' email that sounded hysterically ignorant. I decided not to go ahead because I don't need that trouble, but now I want to know what the deal is.
1. Do they have a legal right to stop me putting their schedule up on my own website? (A schedule can't possibly be trademarked, right? And I thought it couldn't be copyrighted either, it's just a list of facts). Or to stop me using their name, or their logo, to refer to them? (That is probably trademarked, but I'm using it to talk about them?) Does this change if I were making money off it somehow (by ads on the page, or by offering printed copies for sale somehow)?
2. If what I'm doing is legally ok, how much trouble can they cause me, and how can I avoid this trouble? Do I just have to accept the risk that they bring a crazy lawsuit and waste my time and money?

I know you are not a/my lawyer, and that you are not offering legal advice. I am unlikely to do anything with this information, but the Andy Baio thread made me curious. Anon in case I do ever move forward with it and having talked about it turns out to be a bad thing.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAL, but generally speaking, facts can not be copyrighted. So the fact that the Wil Wheaton keynote is at 8 PM on June 23 would seem to me to be fair game for republishing. Obviously, you can't cut and paste their descriptions of the events or otherwise use their original content.

However, as we've seen, the actual law has little to do with reality in this area. If somebody comes after you they generally can afford to be assholes much longer than you can afford to defend your rights.
posted by COD at 7:05 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Similarly, in any fandom I've been around, antagonizing big name fans (such as con organizers) is a good way to make your life pretty miserable whether or not you're doing it legally. It's like the old adage about picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, only with web server bandwidth and little plastic name badges instead of newspaper ink.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2011

I am not yet a lawyer and I can make absolutely no assurance that the following is the final word in your state; if you do decide to go forward with the schedule, the best thing to do is always to consult an actual lawyer in your jurisdiction.

They can neither trademark nor copyright factual information, and except in very strange circumstances they would have no legal recourse against you even if you were to make money from your use of your reformatted schedules. They cannot prevent you from using their name to refer to them, but in order to ward off trademark liability it is probably best to add a very clear disclaimer to the effect that you aren't affiliated with any of the conventions. Regardless of your being entirely aboveboard, they have every right to sue you, and if they do sue you it is very, very likely that you will wind up having to pay whatever legal fees you incur in defending yourself.
posted by foursentences at 7:56 AM on June 24, 2011

If what I'm doing is legally ok, how much trouble can they cause me, and how can I avoid this trouble? Do I just have to accept the risk that they bring a crazy lawsuit and waste my time and money?

Anyone can sue you for anything. So yes, they could sue you for copyright and/or trademark infringement and you would have to spend time and money defending yourself. It's more a question of whether or not they have the resources and inclination to actually sue you rather than just send email threats.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:37 AM on June 24, 2011

If what I'm doing is legally ok, how much trouble can they cause me

Even if it is legal (and I think it is, although IANAL), they can likely prohibit you from entering the con. There's probably a "we can prohibit anyone from entering at any time for any reason, revoke tickets, etc.," clause in the ticket terms. (And even if there's not an explicit clause to that effect, they may be able to anyway.) Did you still want to actually go to these cons?

how can I avoid this trouble?

Just keep the document you create between you and your friends—don't make it public. My con days are behind me, but I do go to film festivals and I often find myself re-formatting their schedules into a form I find more convenient. I keep these to myself.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:48 AM on June 24, 2011

how can I avoid this trouble?

How about, instead of starting your own separate website to compete with the con's official one, offer your services to the con organizers to help make the official one better?
posted by ook at 9:27 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite] & others do this stuff and seem to not get in trouble
posted by ejoey at 10:50 AM on June 24, 2011

IANAL but, though facts cannot be copyrighted, the arrangement of facts can. For example, you cannot copy an encyclopedia, even though it is only reporting facts. Their schedule may only be reporting facts but their arrangement of the schedule, i.e. a listing of what is on when may be copyrightable. It's a grey area but may not be worth your time and money fighting it.
posted by TheRaven at 12:41 PM on June 24, 2011

Try looking at this case: where a phone book was ruled not copyrightable. In your case, the names and times seem pretty close to plain old facts, but I would be worried about the titles of the talks, if any. Descriptions, biographies, etc. are definitely creative and should be left out, in my non lawyerly opinion.
posted by wnissen at 9:29 PM on June 24, 2011

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