The English Court of Appeal has recently confirmed the commercial and legal importance of database rights and, in particular, their relevance to the sports industry. In a decision welcomed by rights holders, the court upheld the rights of Football Dataco in relation to data contained in its database, ‘Football Live’.
Football Dataco runs a service called ‘Football Live’ which is a database of statistics for football matches held in the UK. The database holds, amongst other things, information on goals scored, penalties, substitutions, yellow cards and red cards. The data is collated by freelance workers who Football Dataco pay to attend football matches. Football Dataco spent approximately £600,000 per year gathering data and licensed it to other users.
Sportradar GmbH, a German sports data company, ran a similar service to Football Dataco in Europe called ‘Live Scores’ using servers in Austria and Germany to store information. Sportradar was engaged in providing data relating to sports events to customers, including a betting company in England, Stan James Abingdon Ltd, which in turn made the data available to its own customers.
Football Dataco complained that Sportradar had copied and re-used some of the information from its database and included the data on their own Live Scores server. The Court of Appeal held that Sportradar and Stan James were jointly liable for infringement of Football Dataco's database by Stan James's customers.
Directive 96/9/EC on the Legal Protection of Databases allows database owners who have invested substantially in compiling data to prohibit third parties extracting or re-utilising such data. This is known as the "database right". Re-utilising data is when substantial parts of the protected contents of a database are made available to the public. Directive 96/9/EC was implemented into UK law by the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997. However, the database law has proved contentious and been the subject of much litigation. The European Court of Justice having previously held in British Horseracing Board Ltd and others v William Hill Organisation Ltd (Case C-203/02) that database rights do not exist in lists of sporting fixtures if the investment had been in the creation of their contents, rather than in obtaining or verifying them.
English Court of Appeal Ruling
The English Court of Appeal overturned an earlier ruling of the High Court that Sportradar was not jointly liable for infringement. The Court of Appeal also upheld the first instance Judge’s decision in respect of Stan James’ joint liability. The Court of Appeal judge Sir Robin Jacob said that Sportradar could not have collected this data itself without substantial investment. He also rejected Sportradar’s argument (relying on the British Horseracing Board v. William Hill ruling) that recording factual events at a football match was not collecting materials but creating data, and so should not be protected by the database right.
Databases can have immense commercial value. In reaching this judgement, the Court of Appeal has provided greater protection for database owners. If database rights had not been found to exist in the contents of the ‘Football Live’ database, arguably those in the data collecting industry would have no way of protecting their considerable investments.
Due to the potential implications of this decision, particularly its broad interpretation of database rights, it is understood that Sportradar and Stan James have sought leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, requesting that a question is referred to the European Court of Justice on the interpretation of the database directive. Therefore, the final whistle may not yet have gone.