Copyright and CAS Numbers

There’s discussion all over the chemical blogosphere at the moment about copyright and CAS numbers Chemspider’s Tony Williams first broached the subject in his blog and has followed up here. Cameron neylon has touched on the issue here as too have PeterMR and Kurt Wegner. If I’ve missed any links, please leave a reference to your post in the comments.

Anyway, here’s a thought…

Thumbnails (i.e. reduced size) versions of photos, images, and other visual creative works were recently the subject of a court case in the US, I believe. The judge suggested that displaying a thumbnail of an image was not a breach of copyright.

CAS registry numbers, InChIs, DOI’s and other such “creative works” might, in some sense, be considered an analog of an image thumbnail, and therefore may fall outside of a copyright claim similarly. Has anyone got the legal prowess to test such a case.

However, in writing this comment it occurred to me that there may be a more fundamental factor that would preclude CAS numbers being copyrighted. Aren’t they generated sequentially and automatically? If so, then perhaps they don’t fall under the description of “creative works” and therefore may not be copyrightable at all.

Author: David Bradley

Freelance science journalist, author of Deceived Wisdom. Sharp-shooting photographer and wannabe rock god.

6 thoughts on “Copyright and CAS Numbers”

  1. CAS has budged –

    “CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society, is pleased to announce that it will contribute to the Wikipedia project. CAS will work with Wikipedia to help provide accurate CAS Registry NumbersĀ® for current substances listed in Wikiprojects-Chemicals section of the Wikipedia Chemistry Portal that are of widespread general public interest.”

    More on this here

  2. Ah, righto, Will. Thanks for that clarification. You’re probably entirely right in terms of the use of the CAS database, but in terms of using a CAS number(s) in isolation (perhaps picked up from other sources/databases) that would not, presumably, be covered by the CAS T&Cs. I’m no lawyer either, so hopefully others will pitch in with their thoughts on this.


  3. I think CAS numbers (a small sequence of characters that describe something) are not a creative work. Unless phone no.’s are?

    Is this URL (a small sequence of characters which describes this post) copyrightable?:

    I dont think so, its the contents of the page that are.

    What stops the redistribution of CAS no.s is the terms and conditions you sign up to when you use CAS Databases not copyright law (which should quite rightly be respected as CAS pointed out on Wikipedia).

    But of course, not a lawyer.

  4. I’ll wait for a lawyer to comment on Creative Works etc. For the moment I remain hopeful that an appropriate discussion can resolve this issue of allowing the posting of about 5000 CAS numbers for encyclopedic content.

  5. Thanks for the additional link. It is a tangled web and I’m sure the lawyers will rub their hands all the way to the bank (as usual) once it “kicks off”


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