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Q: DMV License Plate Numbers - Public Copyable Information or Private? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: DMV License Plate Numbers - Public Copyable Information or Private?
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: evanevans-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 07 Nov 2002 17:29 PST
Expires: 07 Dec 2002 17:29 PST
Question ID: 102326
Are the DMV License Plate Numbers publicly viewable on automobiles
copyprotected or does an individual have the right to post a
particular license plate number on the internet for others to see
legally? As I understand it, that info is a matter of public record,
so does that mean they could be posted online without information
about the owner of the plate (because that information is protected)?
Subject: Re: DMV License Plate Numbers - Public Copyable Information or Private?
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 12 Nov 2002 13:00 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear evanevans-ga;

As someone who has enjoyed a 20-plus year career in law enforcement, I
thought your question was an interesting one.

Generally speaking, copyrights are used to protect  "original works of
authorship" that have been conceived, designed and affixed to some
form of media. Copyrightable material includes: literary works,
musical works, dramatic works, pantomimes, pictorial, motion pictures,
sound recordings, and architectural works. As a rule, a copyright is
said to exist at the moment the creative work has been fixed by its
creator. No license, per se, is necessarily required to establish this

On the other hand, according to the US Copyright Office, one of the
many things that cannot be copyright protected are, in their words,
“Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and
containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars,
height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or
tables taken from public documents or other common sources)”

Because license plate number are made up entirely of information
generated by a public entity (the state) no copyright is said to
exist. The plate itself is not owned by the user, but rather assigned
to him/her by the Department of Motor Vehicle. In fact, to further
establish this, it may be noted that the State reserves the right to
suspend, or revoke the plate at any time for specific violations of
the law, thereby rescinding a user’s permission to utilize property of
the state (the license plate).

You may seen license plate numbers in the newspaper, on interstate
billboards (Megan’s Law, Amber Alert, etc), and the nightly news (“Be
on the lookout for ABC123”) or seen the practice of publishing
licenses plates in other forms. When done within the guidelines of
criminal and civil law, this is entirely legal. The problem arises
when you publish the license plate number and make some kind of
defamatory reference out the plate’s user. If you make a statement
such as this, with or without proof that it is true, the user of the
plate can sue you for libel (a written defamation of character) in
civil court – sometimes for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of
dollars. Even if what you say in your publication about the user of
the license plate is factual, the legal process of defending your
actions alone can bankrupt you. It is indeed a risky proposition that
most people dare not undertake.

I will go beyond my own self-imposed restriction of offering advice
(which, of course, you did not ask for and are not required to follow)
and say this: I would strongly advise you to reconsider how much the
publication of this information really means to you before you risk
all to actually do it.

I hope this answers your question and I look forward to working with
you again in the near future.

Best regards;

“US Copyright Office – Copyright Basics”


“Copyright Laws and Public Domain”

(Paris Text 1971), as revised”

“ - General Libel and Slander Law Questions”

“Universal Copyright Convention as revised at Paris on 24 July 1971”

“Legal Information Institute – ‘TITLE 17 – COPYRIGHTS’ ”


Search engine used:

Google ://

Search terms used:

“Berne Copyright Convention”
“Universal Copyright Convention”
Copyright, Laws, Public Domain”
Libel, slander, laws
evanevans-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Your answer was right on. You understood exactly what I was asking and
gave me the information I was looking for and then some. The links
will be most helpful. You have made my valuable time well spent using
Google answers. Would you mind going into some more detail for me for
this tip of $5? Perhaps reflecting on the legalities of storing
license plate numbers in a database for public view? My end use of
this data is for a business plan (which may never come to fruition due
to legal restrictions) whereby the public becomes a reporting entity
of vehicles exhibiting civilly concerning behaviour (such as "Road
Rage", frequent accidents), then this data could be turned around for
further investigation in the case of cross-referenced offenders who
are "intellegently" chosen by the "signature" of reports made of their
license plate number.

I realize I have said much about the business plan and compromised
it's privacy but you seem honorable somehow and can I ask that you do
not speak of it's exact details to anyone?

Evan Evans

Subject: Re: DMV License Plate Numbers - Public Copyable Information or Private?
From: tutuzdad-ga on 12 Nov 2002 19:42 PST
Dear evanevans-ga;

Unfortunately, your follow up question enters into the category of
legal advice, which I am unable to give you in accordance with Google
Answers policy. I can safely point out a known matter of law or even
provide an explanation of the law in general terms, but interpreting a
matter of law as it applies to your unique situation exceeds my level
of expertise. The bits of advice I offered you earlier were merely my
own personal observations of a known matter of law and are meant to
convey the avenues I would take (or refrain from taking) based on my
own professional experiences.

I can, however, make suggestions, and the ones that I will offer you
are these (hoping that I am still sharing your school of thought in at
least one of the following scenarios): If you are interested in
helping to protect your community against drivers who violate the law,
you can get involved in your local “Neighborhood Watch Program”. These
programs employ proven methods of doing the very same thing that you
speak of.

If you want to start a business which tracks drivers who violate the
law, it’s already been done (many times over) so prepare yourself for
stiff competition and lots of civil litigation. You can study the
methods these companies use and find more information than you
probably care to know about by contacting them directly. Some may even
offer franchise opportunities. I am referring to the signs you see on
DOT vehicles that say “How’s My Driving – call 1-800-XXX-XXXX”. The
license numbers reported to them by the public go into a central
database that acts as a reporting service to the many companies who
have contracted their services; usually companies that own the trucks
and employ the drivers whose activities are being reported.

If you are trying to develop and market software that tracks drivers
who violate the law, this too has already been done, ad nauseam. The
best example of this type of software, in my opinion, is one marketed
to law enforcement agencies by Spillman Technologies, Inc., in Logan,
Utah ( I am partial to this one - and lo, I
have seen and used many - because it’s the one I actually use today.
In fact, I am a trained instructor of the Spillman system (I profit
absolutely nothing from Spillman sales, I might add, so I say this
freely). As tracking software goes, it works quite well.

Beyond that, assuming I may be off track of your intentions, I can
only suggest that you re-word your question so that it does not
require the exchange of legal advice, apply a good price to it to
ensure a definitive answer, and re-post it on Google Answers so that
someone can work on it for you.

In closing I must warn you, (again from my own personal experience)
about tracking software and databases v. the law. My take on them is
that they have consistently proven one thing – you cannot rely on
certain things alone (among them, government assigned numbers OF ANY
KIND) to accurately track, profile, survey or identify ANYONE at ANYT
TIME and expect to stay out of civil court. People change license
plates, credit cards, cars, names, identities, addresses, phone
numbers and even their physical appearance like you and I change our
socks! This is especially true among the elements of our society who
habitually violate the law. Having said that, if you have any other
creative aspirations that prove less problematic as this one, they may
be more deserving of your obvious talent and admirable efforts, and in
the end prove to be a safer and more rewarding endeavor.

Best regards;
Subject: Re: DMV License Plate Numbers - Public Copyable Information or Private?
From: evanevans-ga on 13 Nov 2002 13:14 PST
Thanks for your reply and the time you spent on this. Again, you have
made Google Answers a wonderful service through your own efforts.

To clarify my situation, I am not trying to develop commercial
software or keep track of commercial vehicles. Rather I wish the
general public, civilians, to have access to a database which they can
report offensive driver's plates to and learn if a certain plate has
racked up lot's of reports perhaps prompting the civilian to make a
report to the police about the offensive driver they just had an
incident with or were witness to.

The usage of teh site could well be under the pretext that the
information given could have changed hands and may or may not
accurately reflect the history of the plate in question.

Knowing this, if you have any further comments they are welcome,
otherwise you have done a great job with my question and I do hope we
can work together in the future.

Evan Evans

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