Legal Updates

Database Rights v Copyright

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is expected to rule later on this year on the first UK Database case, British Horse Racing Board (BHRB) v William Hill Organisation Ltd UK, on whether a database is protected by copyright law or database rights or both. The ECJ will rule under the EU Database Directive 1997 and the UK Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997. A database can be manual or electronic. Certain documents stored in a database may have their own copyright. The crucial question is whether a database itself should be afforded both copyright and database rights protection. Although it is possible that a database will satisfy both requirements so that both copyright and database right may apply.

The case involved whether William Hill had illegally extracted and utilised the British Horse Racing Board's database. William Hill denies that it had extracted and in turn utilised a substantial part of their database. Bookmakers William Hill Ltd refused to pay for horse racing information which British Horse Racing Board say the bookmakers illegally 'extracted and re-utilised' from their database, which costs four million pounds to upgrade, and employed eighty people in the process. William Hill disputes that it 'extracted and utilised' a 'substantial' part of the database, as defined by the Directive. Relatedly, the ECJ will consider whether a new database separate from the previous database arises, whenever any substantial change in the database has occurred.

The ECJ's decision in its ruling will be important as its interpretation of the Directive will shape how our courts will decide future cases involving database infringement.

There are certain distinctions between both database rights and copyright:

  • Database rights lasts for fifteen years, whereas copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years;
  • The test for infringement of each right may be different although we are not sure exactly what the test is. This is of greater commercial significance, as the test for database rights is essentially whether you are 'extracting' or 'reutilising' a 'substantial' part of the database. The test for copyright infringement is whether a person has copied a substantial part of a work. The test is qualitative not quantitative.

It is hoped that all these issues will be clarified by the ECJ and confirm database right as the most reliable protection available for databases.


© RT COOPERS, 2004. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.



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