This post is part of a series of posts entitled A Legal Guide to the Internet. For a comprehensive list of articles contained in this series, click here.
Although there have been many recent attempts to increase copyright protection for databases in the United States, Congress has yet to find a solution that would allow protection beyond the mere selection and arrangement of the work without providing the copyright owner with a monopoly in the information contained in the database. Proposed legislation such as the Database Investment and Intellectual Property Anti Piracy Act of 1996 (HR 3531) demonstrate efforts to extend protection to the creators and owners of databases that are not currently protected under United States copyright laws. This legislation has not to date been enacted in the United States.
Currently, databases are given greater protection in Europe. In 1996, the European Union adopted the Directive on the Legal Protection of Databases (“EU Directive”). The EU Directive basically rewards the “sweat of the brow” approach rejected by the United States Supreme Court in Feist. The EU Directive allows for protection of a database if it is sufficiently original or if its creation required a substantial investment of time and effort to compile the data. The Database Directive applies, however, only to databases created by developers whose countries provide reciprocal rights to databases developed by companies within the European Union. The United States does not have such reciprocal rights. Therefore, the EU Directive could have a significant impact on United States companies conducting business in the European Union because the U.S. companies will not be afforded the same, broader, protection for their databases.
My Web Grocer LLC v. Hometown Info Inc. 375 F.3rd 190 (2nd Cir. July 13, 2004) illustrates the difficulty in protecting databases based upon copyright solely based upon the selection and arrangement of information. The Court denied a preliminary injunction that would have prevented Defendant from using grocery product descriptions for on-line shopping that had been developed and copyrighted by Plaintiff. The Court questioned whether the product descriptions constituted copyrightable subject matter.