EU Court Ruling Saying Sports Schedules May Not Covered By Copyright Pushes Back On Dangerous Database Copyrights

from the it's-a-step dept

The US has long rejected the idea that you get a copyright in return for the "sweat of your brow." It's not about the labor, it's about the creativity. That's why we don't allow "database rights" -- or copyrights on collections of factual data, such as a phone book. Europe, however, has gone in the other direction, allowing such database rights, much to the chagrin of many experts who recognize that such database rights are economically damaging. The one nice thing about this major difference in Europe and the US is that it's given us some natural experiments to compare like industries from the US with those in Europe. That research has shown that, for all the talk of how copyrights are needed to keep an industry strong, the US database market (where no such copyrights are allowed) has grown at a much faster rate than the European one -- with no significant other differences involved. In other words, the theory that copyright is needed to grow an industry has been proved false. In fact, the situation with the US stance on database copyright presents evidence that you can get greater growth and innovation without copyright -- because there's more openness, more value, and greater opportunities outside of locking down the data.

So a recent ruling that reader aldestrawk brought to our attention is pretty interesting. It involves a case we talked about a few years ago, where a UK court found that sports schedules could be covered by a database copyright, since it took effort to put together. Thus, newspapers and websites couldn't just repost a sports schedule without a license, even though it was just factual information.

It looks like that case got kicked up to the EU Court of Justice, who appears to have given another sensible ruling pushing back on what can be covered by a database copyright. Specifically, it appears the court suggests that a pure "sweat of the brow" argument is not sufficient, and instead, the work needs to show some element of creativity. In fact, it suggests that the copyright in a database copyright doesn't actually cover the data, but merely the creative input into "the structure" of the database.
The fact that the setting up of the database required, irrespective of the creation of the data which it contains, significant labour and skill on the part of its author does not justify, as such, the protection of it by copyright if that labour and that skill do not express any originality in the selection or arrangement of that data.
The court does not make a final ruling on the copyrightability of the football schedules, but kicks it back to the UK court to make a ruling given the EUCJ's guidance. Thus, the court will now have to look at whether there's any actual creativity in setting up the league schedule. It seems that should likely greatly limit the database copyright in the EU. It makes you wonder if others who have thought the database copyright was stronger, might start branching out a bit and experimenting.

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    DandonTRJ (profile), 6 Mar 2012 @ 1:17am

    Seems like a parallel to the Feist case here in the US. The Supreme Court said that you can copyright a phonebook, but not for its raw data, only the particular selection and arrangement of the data (and even then, only if that selection and arrangement is sufficiently creative).

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