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Website terms of use may protect databases against screen-scraping
19 May 2015

In the recent case of Ryanair Ltd v PR Aviation BV (C-30/14), the Court of Justice of the European Union (“ECJ”) ruled that where the Database Directive (96/9/EC) (“Directive”) did not apply to a publicly available database, the author of the database could use its website terms of use to place contractual restrictions on the use of its data.

Despite the terms of use on Ryanair’s website expressly prohibiting screen-scraping, PR Aviation used screen-scraping software to take data from Ryanair’s website, and use it on its price comparison website. Ryanair sued PR Aviation in the Netherlands, for infringement of copyright and the database right under the Directive. The Supreme Court held that the data was not protected by copyright or the database right, but asked the ECJ to rule on whether the use of a database not protected by the Directive, could be limited contractually.

The Directive prohibits an author of a database preventing a ‘lawful user’ accessing a database which has been made publicly available and extracting and/or re-utilising insubstantial parts of its contents.

The ECJ ruled that the Directive does not apply “to a database which is not protected either by copyright or by the sui generis right under that directive”, meaning that the author of a database is not precluded from laying down contractual limitations on its use by third parties. Whether a database is protected by the Directive, the ECJ left as a question of national law.

It may be that if website terms of use prohibit screen-scraping, a user seeking to use the publicly available database for such purposes is not a ‘lawful user’, which would mean that the Directive’s ban on contracting out of a lawful user’s rights would not apply; however the ECJ did not examine this point.

If you would like to discuss this further or find out more about how the Commercial & Technology team can help your business please contact Sarah Williamson on 0118 952 7247 or email [email protected] .

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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