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Understanding Database Rights

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Lots of time, effort and money go into the collation and arrangement of information so understanding database rights and the laws protecting databases is critical for database owners. In the UK, databases are protected under the general copyright laws and also under the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 (“Databases Regulations”).

The law defines a database as “a collection of independent works, data or other materials which are arranged in a systematic or methodical way”. The definition includes all sorts of arrangements of independent research work such as indexes and directories.

Literary Works or Significant Investment

Databases are treated as literary works under the copyright laws and are entitled to similar protection from infringement. However, unlike other kinds of literary works where creativity is immaterial, copyright protection in databases exists only if the work is an intellectual creation of the author; i.e. the work is not a mere collation of information but reflects the intellectual effort of the creator.

The Database Regulations, on the other hand, afford special protection to databases if authors have made significant investments – financial, human or technical – in the creation of database. Therefore, it is not necessary to prove intellectual creativity under the Database Regulations.

Database Authors

Both in the Database Regulations and copyright laws, database authors are the first owners of the work except in certain circumstances. For instance, where work is created by employees in the course of employment, employers are the first owners. Like any other literary work, databases must also be fixed in some form. Database rights start to exist from the moment they are so fixed and last usually for a period of 15 years from the date of publication.

Infringement of database rights occurs when a person, without the consent of the owner, extracts substantial information contained in a database and reutilizes that information for commercial gains. However, the law recognizes certain exceptions in cases of fair use of databases, for instance, where the information is used for teaching or research without commercial motives.

Reutilisation of Databases

It is important to note that the requirement of investment by author and rules regarding reutilisation of work under the Database Regulations are rigid. This rigidity has in some way discouraged authors from seeking remedies under the Database Regulations, and protection under more straightforward copyright laws is sought instead. However, it is recommended that authors keep track of the investments made in the creation of the database in order to help establish their rights. Parties intending to reutilise an existing database must extensively review the nature and scope of legal protection to avoid claims of infringement.

If you need help understanding database rights or advice on protecting your database or other intellectual property, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.