Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

September 8, 1997

Copyright Office Issues 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. The report, requested April 8 by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was delivered August 18.

"This subject has been the topic of intense debate both in the United States 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," Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters stated. "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 protection 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's consideration of whether there is a need for a new form of statutory protection beyond that already afforded for databases in the United States, 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 Ms. 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. Finally, the report outlines possible constitutional constraints on database legislation.

Prior to drafting the report, the Register and her staff held a series of meetings with parties interested in the subject of database protection, including members of the library, scientific and educational communities, and producers of print and electronic databases. While many participants in the meetings were undecided or took neutral or intermediate positions, others held strong views either for or against the enactment of new legislation.

Proponents of legislation believe that databases are increasingly important to the U.S. economy and to science. They also believe that a lack of adequate legal protection will diminish investments in producing and maintaining databases, to the detriment not only of database producers but also the public.

Opponents of legislation, in contrast, believe that proponents have not produced sufficient evidence of a problem requiring a legislative solution. They say the combination of legal, contractual and technological protections available today is adequate and appropriate.

The report also notes certain areas of general agreement. Participants in the Copyright Office meetings agreed that databases are vulnerable to copying, and that adequate incentives are needed to ensure their continued creation. They also agreed that "free-riding," or substantial copying for competitive commercial purposes, should not be permitted. There was consensus that individual facts should not be the subject of private ownership; that anyone should be free to obtain facts independently from original sources, even after they have been incorporated in a database; that government databases should not be protected; and that it is important not to harm science, research, education, and news reporting.

Copies of the report are posted on the Copyright Office Internet site at under the heading "What's New." Printed copies are available from the Government Printing Office, at (202) 512-1800. A limited number of media copies can be obtained from the Office of the Register of Copyrights at (202) 707-8350.

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PR 97-139
ISSN 0731-3527

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