Crash course on database rights: The exclusive rights

The owner of a protected database has the right to prevent extraction and/or re-utilization of the whole or of a substantial part, evaluated qualitatively and/or quantitatively, of the contents of that database (article 7 §1). Also, he has the right to prevent repeated and systematic extraction and/or re-utilization of insubstantial parts of the contents of the database implying acts which conflict with a normal exploitation of that database or which unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the maker of the database (article 7 §5).

The definition of extraction and re-utilization

The Database Directive tries to be technology-independent by defining the operations one can perform on a database as "extraction" and "re-utilization", and then assigning exclusive rights on these operations.

"Extraction" means the permanent or temporary transfer of all or a substantial part of the contents of a database to another medium by any means or in any form. Basically, if you use the normal interface to a database to obtain data from it, you are extracting that data. The act includes downloading, copying, printing or any other reproduction in any form, electronic or not, temporary or not. In other words, also copying the database itself is "extraction" of the database.

"Re-utilization" means any form of making available to the public all or a substantial part of the contents of a database by the distribution of copies, by renting, by on-line or other forms of transmission. This basically covers putting up a search and retrieval interface to the database, so that others can extract information from it. Public lending of a database is not a re-utilization of that database (article 7 §2(b)).

Extraction and re-utilization of substantial parts

The first right a database right holder has is the right to prevent extraction and/or re-utilization of a substantial part of the database, or the database as a whole. This allows him to act against third parties who make the database available online, sell the database on a record carrier or in printed form, and so on.

Repeated and systematic extraction of insubstantial parts

The whole purpose of making a database available to the public is to allow the public to search and retrieve information from it. Thus, the database owner can normally not act against people who extract "insubstantial parts" (which are smaller than the "substantial parts" mentioned above, although there is no definition or guideline as to when something is substantial).

However, especially when a database is made available online, it is possible for third parties to make use of the database without compensation to the database owner. For example, someone could offer a program that looked up definitions for words in an online dictionary. Even though the program does nothing more than what an ordinary user of the online dictionary would do, the program does this in a repetitive and systematic manner.

The Database Directive calls this "repeated and systematic extraction of insubstantial parts", and notes that this is only permissible if it does not interfere with normal exploitation of the database and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the maker of the database. In the above example, if the owner of the dictionary (a database) normally makes entries available for free, it would be difficult for him to argue that the program interfered with his normal exploitation. But if the dictionary required a subscription, and all copies of the program used a single shared subscription, the dictionary owner loses money and so is able to legally prevent access by the program.

The German case Berlin Online (Landgericht Berlin, 8 October 1998) revolved around a database with classified ads for a Berlin newspaper. A third party created a search engine that searched through the classified ads (a so-called "meta search engine"). The Berlin court held that digitizing, selecting, updating and verifying the advertisements was substantial effort enough to qualify the classifieds as a database. The third party's search engine repeatedly and systematically extracted information from this database. Because the newspaper put up paid advertisements to earn money for the service, the repeated extraction interfered with normal operation of the classified ads database, according to the court. This was later confirmed in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Landgericht Köln, 2 December 1998) concerning a database with real estate advertisements.

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