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Have you ever been involved in a dispute where one company files a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement on a database product? How do you look at one database and compare it to another? It’s not as difficult as you think. With a little time — and some common software tools you probably already have in your office — you might even be able to do the work yourself. TERMINOLOGY Most people have heard of databases and have a basic understanding of what a database does: it stores data in an organized manner. There are some basic database terms you’ll need to know. Data field: Data fields store individual pieces of information. Data fields are named and have attributes associated with them. For example, the length of the data field describes how much data can be stored in that field. Similarly, if the data field “expects” to store dates, it would be formatted as a date field format such as MO/DAY/YR. There are also other types of attributes associated with a data field (other than the length and format described above), but let’s not get too complicated — let’s stick with these for now. Data table: A database is designed using data tables. Database designers have their own “style,” meaning if a new database application is similar to a previously designed database, they will most likely “borrow” from their previous design and modify it, instead of reinventing the wheel, so to speak. In most cases, databases are designed with multiple tables and the tables are also named. Data tables are often designed around an organization of data fields. For example, if the database application is designed for a retail store, there may be a data table with information about customers. There may be another table with information about suppliers. There may be a third table with information about employees. Each table will have a number of data fields that describe and store the information in that data table. Relationships: You’ve heard the term “relational database.” Relationships are used to relate one table in a database to another table in the database. Relationships can be complex, and because we’re trying to keep this simple, let’s just mention that table relationships are part of the database structure. Queries: Queries provide you with the means of searching for information within a database. Queries are typically programmed or created by the database designer as part of the database system, though many databases allow you to create “ad hoc” queries. Forms: Many databases use a “form” that organizes the data fields on the computer screen (similar to a form or checklist you may use in your office). These forms are one way to enter data into the database. Reports: Reports are used to look at the data in an organized, printed format. Reports are typically created (initially) by the database designer and become part of the database. Data: Data is the actual information stored in the database and is entered into the data fields. This information usually belongs to the customer purchasing the database and not the database developer. But that (and other legal issues) should be covered in the agreement. Data records: Remember that the database contains tables, which in turn contains data fields. When you enter information into the database, a data record is created. For example, if you enter the complete customer information in the database, that collective information about the customer (individual pieces of information in the data fields) becomes a data record. COMPARING DATABASES What do you compare? You could run yourself ragged trying to figure out how the various bits and pieces of a database could be compared, but when it boils down to it, there are four issues to review: the raw data itself, the structure of the database, how information gets into and out of the database, and the operational system itself. The data: Data, often called raw data, gets into the database either by the end user entering data directly into the system through a form or it may be imported. If one of your legal issues involves the actual data, then by all means, this will be something you’ll need to compare between databases. It is not uncommon for commercial databases to be “seeded” with false data, allowing a company one method to see if it’s database has been copied. Database structure: The database structure involves the actual design of the database. Here is where you’ll find the fields, tables, relationships, records, forms, macros, queries, modules and reports. If you are comparing databases, you’ll need to compare each of these elements individually. This may sound like a daunting task, and it could be, but take them one at a time, and you’ll see the methodology will flow easier with each comparison. You may also find that you can start with a “top down” compare methodology and stop when you have enough information. In some cases, you may only need to compare at the table level (remember, there are a lot more data fields than there are tables). You may need to compare the data fields in one table in one database with the data fields in one table in the other database. In the same sense, you may need to compare relationships, records, forms, macros, queries, modules and reports. The key is to first understand what you need to compare within the database structure. You may not need to compare everything within the databases. For example, the dispute may only focus on the data tables and data fields, and not the other database elements. Access to the data: How does the data get into a database? If it’s a desktop database, most likely the data is entered through a “form” that is created for the end user. In other cases, it may be a mass import of data. If the database is used on the Internet, the database designer may have created program files that interface with an Internet Web browser. There are three common programming systems that interface databases to the Internet: Cold Fusion, Active Server Pages, and PHP Hypertext Pre-Processor. Without going into a lot of technical detail and trying to keep things simple, it suffices to know that each of these three systems is used to program the system to send and receive information between the Internet Web browser and the database. Operational System: The “look and feel” — finally, a rose is a rose is a rose, right? Well, not necessarily, especially when the rose falls under legal definitions. This can get somewhat complicated, but for purposes of this article, to compare two different operational database systems, you should count on having two computers side-by-side. Compare how the systems are accessed, the “flow” from one screen to another and the arrangement of data fields on the forms (or how the Internet interface looks). You can pretty easily spot any particular similarities — it will be up to you how to argue those issues for or defend against. TOOLS Now that you know a little about databases and what to compare, let’s discuss several tools that you may already have on your desktop computer that you can use in your comparison. You can use your word processor to edit and manipulate text, such as names of data tables, data fields, attributes and relationships. You can use your spreadsheet to count, evaluate and analyze text, especially if you’re doing a side-by-side comparison. If you’ve got a copy of Microsoft Access, you can”look” at the data and the structure of the data base. Let’s assume you have all three of these tools. I’ll walk you through a sample step-by-step comparison methodology. Let’s also assume you have the databases you want to compare in Microsoft Access format (there are many methods of comparing databases, but we’re trying to keep this simple and use common desktop tools). The first thing you want to do is to open the database using Microsoft Access. You’ll be able to see the structure of the database, including the number of tables, the data fields within those tables, the raw data, and various other functions and programs within the database. You can also get a quick understanding of the structure of the database using Microsoft Access’ “Documenter” tool. It will analyze the database structure and present a document describing the database structure. This is where your comparison begins. The output of the Documenter tool is a text document. You can save it to Microsoft Word in “rtf” (Rich Text Format) or save it to Microsoft Excel format. Because the document may be quite large, you might save it to Microsoft Word and then use Word’s editing features to edit down to what you are looking to compare. Remember, depending on the particulars of the lawsuit, you may only need to look at certain elements of the database structure. For simplicity, let’s narrow down the database comparison to tables and fields. You may want to keep a copy of the full output as backup for your comparison. After editing out the unwanted information, such as page numbers, file names and paths, you can then use a standard “cut and paste” to select the entire edited text (tables and data fields) and paste them into a spreadsheet. Now you’ve got a complete listing of tables and all fields within those tables. If you only need to compare the database tables and table names, then delete the data field information. You might want to keep a count of the number of data fields within those tables if it’s important to show differences between two databases. For example, one company may follow one design style, using many tables and fewer fields per table, while another company may follow a different design style using fewer tables, but more fields per table. This may be an important note in database comparisons. Do the same function for the other database you want to compare. Make sure you’re comparing apples with apples, so use the same methodology as for the first database. Now you can use Excel to review the table names side-by-side. Are they the same? Are there similarities? What about the number of data fields per table; any similarities? You can decide from this simple review. If there are too many similarities (such as the same name of a table or the same naming convention style), then you may need to go one step further and compare the data fields within the data tables. It’s an extra step and will require a little more work, but it’s the same methodology. Now you’ve got information about two database structures. Is this enough for your case or do you need other comparisons, such as queries or programming files? Either way, you’ve got a good start in understanding how to compare databases. Andrew Adkins III is the director of the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Law Technology News. E-mail: [email protected].

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