With an important judgment rendered on Jan. 15, 2015 (Case C-30/14), the ECJ ruled on the conditions of applicability of the Directive No. 96/9, concerning the legal protection of databases in any form.

According to the said Directive, “database” shall mean a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means. The Directive provides for two types of protection: copyright protection for creative databases constituting the author’s own intellectual creation; and the protection on the basis of a sui generis right for databases which, although not possessing the requirements to benefit from copyright protection, had implied a substantial investment on the part of their creator.

In the case at hand, the dispute arose from the fact that the famous airline Ryanair had acted against the PR Aviation BV, a price comparison website, that used an automated system to extract data from Ryanair’s website (e.g. flights data, times and prices), despite the fact that anyone accessing the latter was required to accept its terms of use, which indeed prohibited “the use of automated systems or software to extract data” (i.e.‘screen scraping’).

The question submitted to the Court of Justice was then to assess, in first place, whether Ryanair’s data containing times and prices of its flights could constitute a database protected either under copyright or under sui generis rights under Directive 96/9/EC, and, in turn, in the event it did not qualify for any of those form of protection, whether contractual limitations   could   be   applied   in   order   to   avoid   third-parties   to   freely   extract   data   from   the   same.

With respect to the issues highlighted above, the Court caught the opportunity for making clear that, first of all, the Directive does not preclude a database author from laying down contractual limitations on its use by third parties (always provided that the terms of the contract are not contrary to the national law of a single Member State). In fact, the Court held that contractual limitations can be laid down at least from the collector of a database which – like the one constituted by Ryanair – does not qualify either for copyright or for sui generis protection: according to the Court, the Directive must be interpreted as meaning that “it is not applicable to a database which is not protected either by copyright or by the sui generis right under that directive, so that Articles 6(1), 8 and 15 of that directive do not preclude the author of such a database from laying down contractual limitations on its use by third parties, without prejudice to the applicable national law”.