UK: Copyright And Rights In Databases

Last Updated: 5 July 2001

Pursuant to the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997, which came in force on January 1st 1998, items added on to databases – whether electronic or not – are protected by copyright as "works"' in their own right. So, for example, even if single citations of facts do not enjoy copyright protection, they collectively as a compilation of many facts may enjoy protection as literary works, databases or compilations. Although prior to 1998 it was possible to protect databases as compilations (e.g. telephone directories) – i.e. into which sufficient effort, judgement and taste has been applied – it was not until the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) was amended in 1998 that specific provision was made for the protection of databases by copyright.

Databases now enjoy two kinds of protection:

  • if they demonstrate the requisite degree of originality or creativity, they are now conferred full copyright protection as literary works;
  • if they do not meet the originality or creativity requirement, they are protected under ‘database right’.

In other words, a database is protected as a full literary work only if the selection or arrangement of the contents represents the author’s own intellectual creation. Databases which fall short of this, are only protected by the new database right.

What Is A Database?

In order to rank as a database worthy of ‘database right’ protection, a database must be a collection of works, data or other material which:

  • are arranged in a systematic or methodical manner; and
  • are individually accessible by electronic or other means, and
  • result from a substantial investment in collecting, verifying or presenting the contents.

However, in order to be protected as a full literary work, and therefore enjoy copyright protection, the selection or arrangement of the contents of the database must be such that there is an "intellectual creation". If there is nothing intellectual or creative, the data collection will get a special "database right" instead. For examples, see "Types of Databases" below.

Full Copyright Protection

If a database owner qualifies for full copyright protection by virtue of the selection or arrangement therein being the author’s own intellectual creation, he has the following rights:

  • only he can temporarily or permanently reproduce by any means or in any form in whole or in part the database;
  • only he can translate, adapt, rearrange or make any other alteration to it;
  • only he can communicate, display or perform to the public the original database or any adaptation of it;
  • only he can distribute it, or copies of it, to the public.

Indeed, these are the rights all copyright holders of literary works have. This also means that the author can license or transfer those rights to others.

However, fair dealing provisions apply here too. This means that others can use and reproduce database material even though it is fully protected by copyright provided it amounts to fair dealing for teaching, research or private study and the source is indicated. Moreover, other permitted acts include those related to the use of literary works for the purposes of criticism and review, for educational purposes, use by libraries and archives and for the purposes of public administration. They are also certain exceptions in respect of use for public administration purposes. However, personal research for commercial purposes is specifically excluded.

Types Of Databases

Databases may fall into 4 different types:

  • where each item in the database has full copyright protection (e.g., stories in a newspaper) and the database is creative. Here the database enjoys double protection, i.e. from the copyright of the individual items together with the database copyright protection;
  • where each item in the database has copyright, but the database is not creative (e.g. a collection of annual reports of companies in London). In such circumstances, even though the individual reports would get full copyright protection, the database itself would only attract database right;
  • where each item in the database has no copyright, but the database is creative (e.g. a directory of Italian restaurants in London which tastefully arranged), copyright is given to the database as a whole, but the individual items are not protected by copyright;
  • where each item in the database has no copyright and the database is also not creative (e.g. a telephone directory for Islington), the database would only enjoy database right.

Period Of Protection

Database right (as opposed to copyright protection as literary works) has a duration of 15 years. However, it can be renewed. In fact, it can be renewed indefinitely, unlike copyright. This can be achieved by showing that sufficient investment (whether by time or money) has been made in the database (by way of addition, deletion or amendment) in the previous 15 years.

Database right is a new intellectual property right that gives the owner the right to prevent unfair extraction or re-utilisation of all or a substantial part of the database without the owners consent. In an information age, it has given proper recognition to the effort in acquiring, collating and arranging that information in such a way as to make use of that information easier. Although not conceived for the Internet as such, the creation of such a right was very timely for that, the ultimate information tool.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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