The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) begun its 2015 ruling with the interpretation of Directive 96/9/CE on legal protection of databases (the “Directive”). The case was originally brought by Ryanair against PR Aviation (Case C-30/14, here you can find the decision).

PR Aviation, is a Dutch entity operating a website allowing consumers not only to search for flights and compare prices, but also – upon payment of a commission to PR Aviation – book a flight. In such way PR Aviation, rather than redirecting the user to the Ryanair website, directly sells the flight tickets to consumers using a dataset linked to Ryanair website.

The terms of use of Ryanair website clarify that “Ryanair is the only website authorized to sell Ryanair flights” and that “the use of automated systems or software to extract data (…) for commercial purposes, (“screen scraping”) is prohibited unless the third party has directly concluded a written license agreement with Ryanair in which permits it access to Ryanair’s price, flight and timetable information for the sole purpose of price comparison“.

In light of the above, Ryanair commenced a proceeding against PR Aviation claiming that PR Aviation (i) had infringed copyright law and the database sui generis right and (ii) had acted contrary to the terms and conditions of use of Ryanair’s website, which had been accepted by PR Aviation.

Further to the first and second instance rulings, the case was brought before the Netherlands Supreme Court, which decided to stay the proceeding and to refer to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling. The Netherlands Supreme Court wanted to know whether the Directive is still applicable in case of a database not protected by copyright orsui generis right and in such case whether the use of data contained in the database could be contractually limited.

The CJEU ruled that the Directive only applies to databases protected either by copyright or sui generis right, so that the author of the database is not precluded to provide for contractual limitations on the use of its data by third parties in accordance with the applicable national law.

Presumably under the Netherlands Supreme Court point of view the Ryanair database is neither copyrightable nor protected by sui generis right: it is now left to said national court to decide whether the contractual provisions prohibiting commercial use of data will be binding on PR Aviation under Dutch law.

As our colleagues also pointed out (see here), it seems likely that Ryanair will be allowed to prevent PR aviation – and other similar companies that conduct the same business model – from scraping its data pursuant to its contractual terms.

In this respect it is worth noting that in 2013 the Court of Milan ruled in a similar case brought by  Ryanair against Viaggiare. In such case the Court underlined that the exercise of intellectual property rights must be assessed in the light of competition law, so that such rights cannot be enforced to partition the market or harm competition in the EU. Accordingly the Court held that Ryanair refusal to allow access to its data would raise antitrust issues.