Magazine article Marketing

The Database Fightback

Magazine article Marketing

The Database Fightback

Article excerpt

The European database industry is uniting to fight an EC directive on copyright protection.

Support from other European Community states is being rallied in the UK's campaign against proposals to abolish the copyright protection of electronic databases. According to UK interests, a European Commission draft directive on harmonisation would end the legal security enjoyed by UK and Irish Republic owners of commercial databases -- that is, those holding information rented out to third parties -- against extraction and unauthorised use (see news story "EC Proposals Cause Copyright Uproar", Marketing, December 17, 1993). Instead, these two countries would find themselves with less protection than most others in Europe.

This would threaten a |pounds~2bn UK industry which accounts for 60% of the EC database business and for which 75% of the turnover is from outside the UK. Opponents of the proposals say this could result in a mass exodus of UK-held databases to countries outside Europe, such as Canada, which offer copyright protection.

Preservation of the status quo would best suit the UK. But since it is difficult to argue against harmonisation, there are counter-proposals that British-style protection be extended to the rest of the Community -- a general upgrading rather than what is viewed as a downgrading.

As it stands, the directive is ambiguous in some areas. For example, it attempts to deal exclusively with electronic databases. Printed data, such as directories, would still have the protection of the Berne Convention on copyright. This leaves uncertain the standing of databases from which printouts have been made.

In the UK, the campaign is spearheaded by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Periodical Publishers Association (PPA).

So that the UK is not regarded, again, as the odd man out in Community harmonisation, co-operation is being enlisted from such other interested bodies as the Brussels-based European Federation of Direct Marketing (FEDIM) and Computer Users Europe (CUE). CUE is a lobbying organisation representing 300 of Europe's largest companies.

DMA legal affairs director Colin Fricker explains: "Other countries in Europe have legislation on unfair competition which to a certain extent compensates them for not having copyright protection on databases."

The proposed substitution of Britain's copyright for rights against "unfair extraction" is described by Fricker as "ridiculous". The objection is that it offers weaker protection and this is only for ten years, compared with the 50 years for copyright.

"The thing that unites all direct marketers, whatever their national laws at the moment, is they want better |database~ protection than they have," he says. "They want a protection equivalent to what we have in the UK and Ireland."

The proposed ten-year protection against "unfair extraction" is in any event insufficient, he suggests. It does not allow sufficient time for database owners to recoup their investments, it might deter future investment in major database projects and it ignores the fact that databases are continuously updated so that at the expiry of the ten-year period the data held could be completely changed.

FEDIM substantially supports the DMA in a paper calling for a raising of the level of database protection in Europe. It comments: "It seems wrong in principle that a database which may increase to double its original size, or even more should lose its protection for all its data at the end of its first ten years."

One of Britain's largest database owners is the Automobile Association, which has about 540 staff engaged in information technology. Andrew Goltz, head of AA's management services policy, is concerned that the directive would impinge also on its computerised cartography and road reports operations.

"We support the idea of harmonising the legal protection of databases in Europe but we believe the draft at the moment is fundamentally ill-conceived," he declares. …

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