In a controversial decision on the protection and control of databases, the European court suggests that you may be able to exert greater control through your website terms and conditions over an unprotected database, compared to one that is protected by copyright or database right.
Ryanair welcomed the decision explaining that it has been
'engaged in several legal cases against screenscraper websites across Europe to prevent its customers from being subjected to extra charges and to ensure Ryanair has appropriate contact details to communicate with its customers'.
In this case Ryanair objected to screen scraping from its website by a Dutch company, PR Aviation. PR Aviation offered a web-based service allowing customers to search for low-cost flights, compare prices and book a seat.
‘The use of automated systems or software to extract data from this website or www.bookryanair.com for commercial purposes, (‘screen scraping’) is prohibited unless the third party has directly concluded a written licence agreement with Ryanair in which permits it access to Ryanair’s price, flight and timetable information for the sole purpose of price comparison.’
European law offers two kinds of protection for databases. Copyright is available where a database amounts to an intellectual creation by virtue of the selection or arrangement of their contents. The separate database right, created in 1996, protects a database where there has been a substantial investment in the obtaining, verification or presentation of the contents. The 1996 Database Directive controls the contractual restrictions that a database owner can impose on legitimate users.
The dispute started in the Dutch courts. They had decided that Ryanair’s website was a database but did not qualify for either of the two types of protection. But PR Aviation argued that the rules on contractual restrictions should still apply.
The European court disagreed – contractual restrictions for unprotected databases were not regulated by the Database Directive and should be left to national law.
So it would seem that contractual restrictions on an unprotected database can potentially be tougher than those on a protected one.