• Broader protection for an increasingly valuable company asset
  • But companies must still take care not to infringe others’ database rights

A recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling shows that companies enjoy much broader protection for the databases that they create than was previously thought according, to Jonathan Cornthwaite, Partner at Wedlake Bell, the City law firm.

However, Cornthwaite adds that it also increases the risk that a business might unknowingly infringe other peoples’ database rights.

Wedlake Bell explains that the latest judgement on database rights by the ECJ, delivered in the case of Directmedia v Universitat Freiburg, shows how someone who makes use of all or parts of another company’s database without consent may infringe that company’s database right and be liable to pay damages. The judgement also shows that it doesn’t matter how the copying was done (electronically, manually or by memory) or if further information was added to the database.

This is a marked expansion of what was previously understood to have been the ECJ's interpretation of infringement of database right. This is because the judgement shows that "extraction" (which is one of the ways in which database right is infringed) is not limited just to the direct physical or mechanical copying of data by using technical means.**

Explains Jonathan Cornthwaite: “Companies invest heavily in their database development, such as intranets, websites and customer relationship management systems (CRM) in order to create a competitive advantage by increasing their efficiency and access to vital information. Should a competitor be legally free to lift information out of these databases it would invariably be a blow to the company that invested in their development.”

Adds Jonathan Cornthwaite: “The ECJ’s broad interpretation of the scope of infringement is very good news for businesses that create and own extremely valuable databases.”

However, Jonathan Cornthwaite also warns: “Although this is good news for the protection of one’s own business, companies must also be very careful about how they compile their prospect lists, contact lists, document databases and so on, as the likelihood that they are infringing others’ database rights may now be increased. Previously, some companies could take a short-cut by copying, or consulting, other people’s work. This is now a far less legally secure option.”

Adds Jonathan Cornthwaite: “High-profile judgments such as this one tend to raise people’s awareness of their rights. As databases are so valuable to businesses, we could see an increase in relevant litigation following this decision.”

Other examples of databases that may be protected by database right are candidate CV databases for recruitment agencies, document management systems for information providers or law firms, logistics solutions for any manufacturing, retail or wholesale business or distributors, and any payroll lists, intranets, websites and personnel lists.