IURIS Malta wins court protection of copyright over database
In a recent judgment delivered by the First Hall of the Civil Court on the 24th March 2011 in Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited vs. Jurgen Neumann et, IURIS Malta obtained an important court declaration over the interpretation of database and the extent of its copyright protection under Maltese Copyright Law.
Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited, producers & distributors of the Yellow Pages on the Maltese market, had found that competitor websites were being used unethically and unlawfully in more ways than one. More importantly, it was discovered that the material posted on these sites was actually the same material featuring in the Yellow Pages. This was confirmed by the presence of spikes in the said sites. Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited had purposely placed hidden false material in the Yellow Pages, with the sole intention of catching out such wrongdoers. The spikes in the sites left no doubt that the material was unlawfully reproduced, which is why plaintiff company proceeded against the operators of these sites for breach of copyright, amongst other things.
The First Hall of the Civil Court found in favour of Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited, giving a studied interpretation of a database, and the extent of protection it is afforded under Maltese Copyright Law. Citing jurists, the court held that the originality of a work is the foundation for its copyright protection, holding that such originality ought to relate to the expression of the thought. Consequently even works which are drawn on ‘common knowledge’ may be deemed original by reason of the manner in which they are conceived, arranged, presented and offered. This is more so in literary works, as is the Yellow Pages, where the work is specifically a compilation of data, facts or information. Such material may be perceived as ‘common knowledge’, but once arranged strategically and systematically it becomes and intellectual creation. The evidence produced convinced the court that the Yellow Pages is an original intellectual creation, by virtue of the efforts made to compile of the data, the layout of the book, the variety of businesses, the categorized sections, amongst other things, and as such it deserves copyright protection.
This is adequately reflected in article 3 (4) of Chapter 415 of the Laws of Malta, granting as it does copyright protection to databases which constitute the author’s intellectual creation by reason of the selection or arrangement of its contents. However, in the past doubts were raised over the remaining part of this law, which states that no copyright shall extend to the content of such a database. This judgment is significant in that it gives a well deserved clarification of the distinction between the copyright of a database as opposed to that over its contents. It held that that copyright referred to the form, or rather to the idea, concept or creation as a whole. The contents alone are not protected, but when brought together under a harmonious concept, they form an intellectual creation which is what the law seeks to protect. The fact that the law disregards the single data, yet affords copyright protection to the ensemble of such data, is further confirmation of the importance of the systematic arrangement of such contents, the court held.
Furthermore it was held that the mere use of the protected work may not suffice to bring about the remedies allowed by law, and that for this to apply one would have to prove actual reproduction. Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited gave a detailed account of all its operations leading to the final product. On the contrary, the defendant responsible failed to explain how the material reached his sites, and could not justify the presence of the spikes. The court had no difficulty in finding that a reproduction took place. In so doing, the court did not merely consider that the material was taken and used, but that it was extensively and substantially reproduced without any effort or creative process by the wrongdoers attempting to render such material autonomous and independent.
Having established that the database was copyright protected in favour of the Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited, and that said company never authorized its reproduction, the court found in favour of plaintiff company. In handing down judgment the court ordered the destruction of the websites concerned, as well as the payment of damages sustained by Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited in terms of article 43 of Chapter 415. The court awarded Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited the sum of € 35,000 by way of damages, after bearing in mind the flagrancy of the breach, as witnessed by the spikes. Yellow Pages was represented by Dr. Simon Galea Testaferrata. For further information contact Dr. Simon Galea Testaferrata (email@example.com) or call at IURIS Malta offices.