ECJ denies database copyright protection for Football fixtures list

On 1 March 2012 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a landmark decision in Football Dataco v. Yahoo! Inc (case C-604/10), stating that football-fixture lists are not subject to database copyright protection unless they reflect the original expression of the creative freedom of their authors.

In this decision, Football Dataco, claiming it owned the copyright (both under the UK Copyright law and under Article 3 of Directive 96/9) and “sui generis” right, pursuant to Article 7 of Directive 96/9 (the Database Directive), with respect to the English and Scottish football league fixture lists it publishes each year, sued Yahoo! for using these lists in its own database without paying any financial compensation.

In the first instance, the UK Court held that these fixture lists were eligible for copyright protection under Article 3 of Directive 96/9, but the Court refused to grant Football Dataco any protection under the “sui-generis” right of Article 7. Confirming the first instance decision on this last point (no protection under the sui-generis right of Article 7), the UK Court of Appeal referred the question of whether protection should exist under copyright law for the database to the Court of Justice.

In a much anticipated decision, the Court of Justice stated, in line with the opinion of Advocate General Mengozzi, that the intellectual effort, significant labor, and skills required for setting up a database were insufficient to justify its protection by Copyright unless the selection and arrangement of data amounted to an original expression of the creative freedom of its author.

This decision may have an important impact on the business of companies whose business is to collect, organize and sell data. [Béatrice Martinet Farano]