1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Adding to databases: your thoughts are invited

I have just been asked an interesting question and, while I think I know the answer, the question is worth sharing. The object of the question is a database. At this stage it is not clear whether the database is protected by copyright or sui generis database right under the Database Directive (Directive 96/9): both are possibilities. The act to which the undisputed owner of the database objects is not however the unauthorised extraction or re-utilisation of the database but, curiously the unauthorised addition of fresh data.

The question is this: what sort of protection does the law provide for against such an act?

6 comments:

Eleonora Rosati said...

Article 5 of the Directive provides that, in respect of the expression of the database which is protectable by copyright, among other things, the author of a database shall have the exclusive right to any alteration.
I guess that adding fresh data might fall within the meaning of alteration.

Plus, there might be also moral rights issues. Although moral rights remain outside the scope of the Directive, the right of integrity (to be intended according to the legislation of the Member State concerned) might also come into consideration.

Francis Davey said...

I agree with Eleonora on the application of 5(b) if the database is protected by copyright. Addition of new data is certainly "alteration", but see below.

The way this is handled by the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 is to add "database" as a separate species of literary work. This automatically means that adaptation is a restricted act.

Then regulation 7 supplements section 21 of the Act with a new s21(3)(ab) which says that an ' "adaptation" ... in relation to a computer program, means an arrangement or altered version of the program or a translation of it'

One of the difficulties with this approach is identify what is the database. Could the party adding new material not say "well, this is actually another database that sits alongside yours - the fact that they are all part of the same 'database' in computer science speak is irrelevant"?

For example, if I have a relational database with a single table containing 1000 rows. That is almost certainly a "database" within the meaning of the directive. But suppose you append another 1000 rows of your own - are you altering my database? I suspect a court, untroubled by any considerations of logic or technical understanding of computer science might say "yes".

But I'm not sure it is that easy. The problem is inherent on the idea of a collection which may contain sub-collections representing investment by different groups of people. In real life this comes up quite often.

If you take a photograph and then I glue it and a photograph I have taken on a piece of card, do I infringe your copyright in the photograph by making an "adaptation"?

As to the database right - assuming the database is still in place (or else there would be an extraction) I doubt there is any infringement of that right.

As always, an interesting question.

Anonymous said...

If permission is not granted to make modifications to the database, does the jurisdiction have any relevant unauthorised use of IT, or hacking, legislation? Presumably they have not given permission to make these alterations.

john walker said...

Is this about a 'database' in the sense of a programed/scripted way of arranging entered data or a 'data set' as in a set of data?

Francis Davey said...

John, we are talking about "database" in the sense of "data set". The definition of "database" for the purposes of the database right and database copyright is found in the database directive:

For the purposes of this Directive, 'database` shall mean a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means.

I accept that is not really the way a computer scientist might think about the word "database", but it is how our European lawmakers decided to do it.

john walker said...


In computer programs the difference between 'data' and a 'set of instructions' is clear(least if they are not 'crashing') Law has a bit of catching up to do,no?