The CJEU has ruled on Case C-202/12 Innoweb regarding whether the sui generis database right can prevent meta search engines from re-utilising the contents of a website's database under Article 7 of the Database Directive (96/9).

Decision

In summary, the CJEU has ruled that an operator who makes available on the Internet a dedicated "meta" search engine (i.e. a search engine which queries multiple other search engines) such as this: http://www.gaspedaal.nl/, re-utilises the whole or a substantial part of the contents of a protected database where it:

  • provides the end user with a search form which essentially offers the same range of functionality as the search form on the database site;
  • "translates" queries from end users into the search engine for the database site "in real time" so that all the information on that database is searched through; and
  • presents the results to the end user using the format of its own website, grouping duplications into a single block item, but in an order which reflects the criteria comparable to those used by the search engine of the database site concerned.

The CJEU did not deal with the issue raised under Art. 7(5) - i.e. repeated and systematic re-utilisation of insubstantial parts, as it found that a substantial part of the contents of the database had been re-utilised by the meta search engine because it made the entire contents of the relevant database site available to its end users as if a query was entered directly into the target website's database.

Commentary

The decision has been couched as being very specific to "meta" search engines; the CJEU made a particular point of emphasising the difference between these and general search engines such as Google. However, it seems as though the case will have an impact on various Internet services which provide "meta" search engine capabilities or analogous services which involve scraping and the making available of third party data, something which is relatively common for a number of different services on the Internet.

The CJEU also seemed quite alive to the supposed detrimental economic impact that meta search engines / aggregation services can have on their sources - i.e. that they can divert potential advertising revenues away from the source of the information by becoming a "parasitical" competing product. It is interesting that when the UK Copyright Tribunal considered this very argument in great detail in the Meltwater reference (on which, see here), it was not overly persuaded that such an effect existed.

The full judgment can be seen here