In the wake of its recent win against "screenscraper" website eDreams, Ryanair has claimed another victory following a referral from the Dutch Supreme Court to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) on the Database Directive (96/9/EC).

In brief, the CJEU held that owners of publically available databases, which do not fall under the protection of the Database Directive, are free to restrict the use of the data through contractual terms on their website. The decision in Case C – 30/14 Ryanair v PR Aviation BV marks the CJEU's first copyright judgment of the year.

Background

PR Aviation ran a website that enabled customers to compare the prices of budget airlines, such as Ryanair, and book a flight upon payment of a commission. Issues arose, however, when Ryanair pointed out that anyone accessing its website had to accept its general Terms and Conditions by ticking a box to that effect. Amongst the general terms was a prohibition on the use of automated systems or software to extract data from their website for commercial purposes, without Ryanair's permission.

Ryanair brought infringement proceedings for both its contractual terms and its rights under the Database Directive and Dutch database and copyright statutes. The Dutch Courts held against Ryanair, causing the airline to appeal all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court. These last set of proceedings were stayed to refer the following question to the CJEU:

"Does the operation of [Directive 96/9] also extend to online databases which are not protected by copyright on the basis of Chapter II of [that directive], and also not by a sui generis right on the basis of Chapter III, in the sense that the freedom to use such databases through the (whether or not analogous) application of Article[s] 6(1) and 8 in conjunction with Article 15 [of Directive 96/9], may not be limited contractually?"

CJEU Judgment

The CJEU held that the Database Directive only applies to databases protected by copyright or the sui generis right. It left it to the national courts to decide whether a particular database qualifies for protection under the Database Directive; the Dutch Court had previously held that Ryanair's did not. The CJEU further held that the owner of a publicly accessible database is free to impose contractual conditions on the use of its database, once this is in compliance with the applicable national law.

Notably, the same would not be true for a database protected by the copyright or sui generis right as certain provisions in the Database Directive (Articles 6(1), 8 and 15) establish mandatory rights for lawful users of the database. The CJEU did not examine the issue of "lawful use". 

Screen-scraping websites may need to rethink their business models.