U.S. Copyright Office Report on Legal Protection for Databases

Information Today, November 1997 | Go to article overview

U.S. Copyright Office Report on Legal Protection for Databases


The U.S. Copyright Office has issued a comprehensive report to Congress on the subject of legal protection for databases, according to a recent announcement from the Library of Congress Public Affairs Office. The report, requested by Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was delivered in August.

"This subject has been the topic of intense debate both in the U.S. and abroad as a result of recent proposals for a new form of legal protection for databases in the U.S. Congress, the European Union, and the World Intellectual Property Organization," said Marybeth Peters, register of copyrights. "Our report should serve to clarify the debate by explaining its history and the issues involved."

The 111-page report, which takes no official position, provides an overview of the past and present domestic and international legal framework for database protection. It describes industry practices in securing against unauthorized use of databases and Copyright Office registration practices relating to databases.

The bulk of the report discusses the issues raised by a number of interested parties during a series of meetings held earlier this year. The report is intended to be a starting point for Congress' consideration of whether there is a need for a new form of statutory protection beyond that already afforded for databases in the U.S. and, if so, how legislation can be crafted without causing negative consequences.

"There is no question that databases are a vital element of the modern information society," said Peters. "We have sought to give Congress some background and context for deciding what legal incentives are necessary and appropriate to encourage continued investments in producing databases and maintaining their timeliness and accuracy."

If Congress decides that new protection is advisable, the first issue to be addressed, says the report, is whether the protection should be a property right or protection against unfair competition. Other issues include how to define the subject matter, how a database qualifies for protection, and how long protection would last.

The report also discusses the challenge of avoiding a detrimental impact on the use of information that has public-interest elements, such as scientific research, education, and news reporting, and the problem of data that cannot be obtained from sources other than a protected database. …

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