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Data Analysis and Intellectual Property Law

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

If big data is the next big thing then organisations creating or utilising databases for analysis must understand their intellectual property rights and responsibilities.

Creating and maintaining databases in an era of big data can be time consuming and costly so organisations that do so need to protect their investment. This can be problematic where database owners wish to make their data available to the research community for further analysis.

Businesses that use databases for commercial purposes must ensure that they do not infringe intellectual property rights to avoid potential claims being made against them.

How Are Databases Protected?

Databases can benefit from two forms of protection under intellectual property laws. They can be protected by normal copyright provisions under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and also by ‘database rights’ which were introduced by the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 under an EC directive.

Databases are defined in the EC database directive as ‘a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means’.

Copyright Protection of Databases

Databases are classed as ‘literary works’ for the purposes of copyright law which means that third parties must get permission from the copyright owner to copy the work in any way. This includes printing copies of it out, storing it on a computer or displaying it. Copyright is an automatic right meaning it does not have to be registered and it lasts for 70 years

In practice copyright is applied to databases for the selection, arrangement and presentation of their contents, which must have an element of originality. The contents themselves may also have separate copyright protection, photographs stored on a database for example, but they are not protected through the database copyright itself.

Database Rights Protection

Database rights go further than the protections provided for by copyright in that they protect the database as a whole. In order to have a database right, there must be a substantial human or financial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting its contents. Like copyright, database rights are automatic but they only last for 15 years. However, this time period starts afresh each time a substantial update is made.

Third parties wishing to use databases protected by database rights must get permission from the rights holder for any extraction or re-utilisation of substantial parts of the database. Exceptions do exist such as for teaching or scientific research but commercial users will generally need consent.


If you are creating databases or using databases created by others for the purposes of commercial analysis it is important that you seek legal advice to ensure that the correct licences are in place.

For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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