Membership Directories and Copyright

The American Massage Therapy Association was unsuccessful in a lawsuit against a publisher who had copied the contents of the AMTA membership directory for their own commercial purposes. Courts have held for a quite a while that the contents of a telephone directory are not copyrightable and the judge held the same standard here.

I think this will drive more associations to switch to web-based membership directories and cease publication of print versions (not to mention the cost savings). It is just too easy to give a printed directory to a temp for a few days of data-entry. Voila! A new spam/direct mail list!

Web-based directories can be structured in a way that makes it much more difficult to copy member contact data in bulk yet still facilitate individual networking. This could help reduce the risk of member data being used by outside parties in unintended ways.

Here are a few methods to protect member data in a web-based membership directory:

  • Put the directory in a restricted-access, members-only area of your web site.
  • Limit the number of results shown at one time in a search results set.
  • Only show partial contact info (such as name, city and state) in the search results list.
  • Display full contact information one member at a time.
  • Do not allow browsing of the complete alphabetical list of members.

This may not stop the truly determined but it will make it much more difficult to copy the entire membership list.

Depending upon implementation, some of these methods could limit the usefulness of the directory for members. You will have to balance that against the need to make that data available to members in a form that won’t easily be abused.

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