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BM Nyman & Co

Bernard Nyman
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Written by Bernard Nyman   

The UK law on databases is an unusual and important aspect of copyright - and it changed significantly with effect from the 1st January 1998.

What is a database?

The answer is: a collection of independent works, data or other materials which are arranged in a systematic or methodical way and are individually accessible by electronic or other means.

This includes electronic databases but also paper databases too, such as printed directories or tables in a book. A website could constitute a database.

Before 1998, a database was regarded under UK law as a compilation, and was protected by copyright as a literary work.  This protected the structure and order of the database, quite separately from any copyright that might subsist in all of the individual works included in the database. Now the structure of a database will only be protected where it is original, which is defined as where “by reason of the selection or arrangement of the contents of the database the database constitutes the author’s own intellectual creation”.

It is no longer sufficient that a lot of time and effort and probably money, too, have gone into creating a database. This was intended to bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe, which has always had a stricter test of creativity for a work to qualify for copyright protection.

However, all is not lost for database owners.

Any database that was in existence before the 28th March 1996 and protected by copyright continues to be protected by copyright even if it would not qualify under the new law.

Furthermore, there is a new right called database right, which protects the contents of a database even where the database does not qualify under the new law for copyright.  The database right arises where there has been a substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the information and preparing the database, and it protects against the extraction or re-utilisation of material from the database, including the systematic and repeated extraction or re-utilisation of insubstantial parts of the database.  The database right lasts for 15 years, but can in effect  be perpetually renewed by making substantial further investment in updating the database.

Any database created between 1st January 1983 and 31st December 1997 has the protection of database right for 15 years from the 1st January 1998, and this is in addition to any copyright protection which the database may still have.

It is particularly interesting that the database right has been introduced to reward investment as distinct from creativity, whereas copyright is generally conferred in order to reward and encourage creativity.

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 July 2009 00:05