of The American Society for Information Science

Vol. 26, No. 4

April/May 2000

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European Developments in Intellectual Property

by Sheila Webber

The editor of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science indicated that there might be interest in legal developments in the European Union concerning electronic information. As I am not a legal expert myself, I will highlight some useful sources, mostly Web-based, together with some other recent European sites.

The Database Directive

It is now several years since the Database Directive was passed (Directive 96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases: a link to the full text is given below). This directive harmonizes protection for databases in the European Union, and it introduced a sui generis right that protects efforts of database manufacturers and publishers for 15 years where there has been "substantial investment" in data collection, arrangement or presentation. A database is defined as a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means.

ASIS member Professor Charles Oppenheim has covered the topic in his LISLEX column in the Journal of information science (the LISLEX column is well worth monitoring if you have an ongoing interest in European library and information legislation). European directives have to be passed into national law within a certain date, in this case January 1998 (see links to the UK and Italian implementations below). In July last year, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal were all referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to implement the directive in time.

Websites Related to the Database Directive

Database Directive (Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases):


(UK) Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 3032: The Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997:


(Italy) Attuazione della direttiva 96/9/CE relativa alla tutela giuridica delle banche di dati:


Oppenheim, C. (1998). LISLEX, Journal of information science, 24(3), 186-191.
Velilla, Susan. Legal protection of informational databases. October 1999.


Proposed Directive on Copyright and Related Rights

The Directive on Copyright and Related Rights is another important European directive, as it has implications for information in all types of media, and it has not yet been passed. Users' representatives are concerned that the directive seems to reduce rights which are currently in place for print media. The European Commission stresses that the aim is to "stimulate creativity and innovation," but it seems difficult to strike the correct balance between the demands of the rightsholders and the demands of the users.

Progress of the directive has been hampered by a number of external factors, such as the hiatus during the "clean out" of European Commissioners last year. The directive has probably also become more significant to a wider audience, because of the growing importance of the Internet. It is believed that the new Legal Affairs Committee (which is working on the directive) may be less strongly on the side of the rightsholders: a good thing from the perspective of the library and information community. The Web address of the latest version of the Directive is given below.

In a previous column, I mentioned the Website of EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations). This has up-to-date news about developments in copyright (look in the Hot News section) and useful links. EBLIDA's director, Barbara Schleihagen, has done a good job of lobbying on behalf of member associations. At the end of February she is moving back to her native Germany, and Teresa Hackett will take her post. Teresa most recently worked on the Libraries Support Team with the European Commission in Luxembourg and so should bring some inside knowledge with her.

The UK's Library Association provides briefing notes and explanations for those interested in the UK standpoint as regards the proposed directive. A key concern in the UK (to quote a Library Association position paper on their Website) is that

    "Under present UK copyright law, although there are exceptions to the exclusive rights of authors in the form of fair dealing, copying for educational purposes and the copying privileges granted to librarians and archivists, these exceptions frequently do not extend in practice to works in digital form."

Fair dealing in the United Kingdom includes the right to copy limited amounts (e.g., one article from a journal issue) for research or private study.

Members of the European Fair Practices in Copyright Campaign (EFPCC) also stress this aspect together with forms of copying which are helpful to those with disabilities. Members of the EFPCC include the European Consumers' Association; the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations; the European Blind Union; and the European Disability Forum. There are statements from the EFPCC on the EBLIDA Website.

Websites Related to the Proposed Directive on Copyright and Related Rights

European Commission: Amended proposal for Directive on copyright and related rights in the information society:




Library Association professional issues page:

www.la-hq.org.uk/directory/prof_issues.html (scroll down to Copyright)

Other Recent European Websites

The European Commission has set up an Intellectual Property Rights Helpdesk on the Internet. It is aimed at those wanting to protect their intellectual property rights and, in particular, at those seeking help with patent issues. Information is available in English, French and German. As well as information about the situation in the European Union in general, there are sets of pages and links for individual European countries. These provide information about national legislation, national associations (such as patent agents), advice and support agencies and so forth, with links to full text and Websites where available. There is also an Intellectual Property glossary in three languages and a free e-mail newsletter.

The key targets for this service are those carrying out projects funded by the European Commission, and they can obtain more help with specific questions. The question of copyright in electronic databases does not seem to be featured much on the Helpdesk. However, the Internet is discussed: one of the site's briefing papers covers intellectual property aspects of World Wide Web authoring, looking at issues such as the relationship between domain names and trademarks.

The trade name and Web name debate continues in an event hosted by Derwent: Is traditional intellectual property fit for a web-based economy? This meeting took place on February 15, 2000. The physical location was the genial one of The Brewery (an upmarket venue in London). The keynote presentations of the speakers are also available online, together with comments e-mailed by visitors to the site. 

The annual BOBATSSS symposium, this year held in Poland in January 2000, had Intellectual property vs. the right to knowledge as its theme. The latter theme was tackled more robustly than the former: abstracts for a number of the papers are on the conference Website.

Two recent documents on the Information Society (DG13) page are a consultation document about a European Top Level Domain (TLD) and the announcement of E-Europe: an information society for all. The E-Europe paper has ambitious targets, aiming to bring all Europeans online as quickly as possible. To the cynical, this might seem rather like one of the many other information-society documents that have emerged from the European Union. However as a European I obviously hope that there will be the political will and (more importantly) money to achieve the program's aims.

The initiative was launched in December 1999 and was scheduled for discussion at the European summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in March 2000. Schoolchildren, the disabled and small businesses are among those to be singled out for special attention. The proposal for a European TLD is mentioned as part of the strategy to boost small business. This proposal, outlined in another paper accessible from the Information Society (DG13) page, would result in a .eu domain and a European registration agency. The slow progress of the proposed new generic TLDs (information, etc.) is mentioned in the consultation document.

Finally, there is a lot of interest on Internet issues among European Parliamentarians and E-Ping is a new forum set up for them in January 2000.

Intellectual Property Rights Helpdesk: http://www.cordis.lu/ipr-helpdesk/

Derwent patent debates: http://www.derwent.com/derwentdebates.html

BOBCATSSS conference site: http://www.bobcatsss.com/

Information Society (DG13): http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg13/index.htm

E-Ping: http://www.eping.org/ 

Sheila Webber is a lecturer in the Department of Information Science at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. She edits the newsletter of the ASIS European Chapter and is a Fellow of the Institute of Information Scientists. She can be reached by e-mail at sheila@dis.strath.ac.uk or www.dis.strath.ac.uk/people/sheila/

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@ 2000, American Society for Information Science