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Artificial Intelligence and databases in the age of big machine data

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This paper deals with those databases where Artificial Intelligence technologies are used to obtain, verify, or present the database’s contents (‘AI databases’). The overarching research question is whether AI databases can be protected under the copyright and sui generis regimes provided by the Database Directive. The alleged inadequacy of the sui generis right for the data economy and, in particular, for machine-generated data led the European Parliament to call on the Commission to abolish said right and the Commission to propose the introduction of a data producer’s right as a new property that would have done what the sui generis right had been unable to. It is this paper’s contention that, contrary to popular belief, the sui generis right is fit for AI databases and that a different solution would lead to an overprotection of said subject matter by contractual means. The sui generis right may be the best, if not the only, way to protect AI ‘authorial’ works. Indeed, even if AI works currently fall outside the scope of copyright law for lack of originality, they could nonetheless be protected if part of a database. Thus, thanks to AI, the sui generis right may become more important than it ever was. Questo contributo riguarda le banche dati in cui si ricorre all’Intelligenza Artificiale per il conseguimento, la verifica o la presentazione dei relativi contenuti (‘banche dati IA’). La domanda fondamentale cui ci si propone di rispondere è se le banche dati IA possano essere protette dal diritto d’autore e dal diritto sui generis come disciplinati dalla Direttiva sulle Banche Dati. La convinzione che il diritto sui generis non sia adatto ai dati generati in modo automatico (c.d. machine-generated data) ha portato il Parlamento Europeo a invocarne l’abolizione e la Commissione a proporre l’introduzione di un nuovo diritto per il produttore di dati non personali. La tesi principale del presente lavoro è che, contrariamente all’opinione dominante, il diritto sui generis ben si attagli all’IA e, più in generale, ai machine-generated data. Una diversa conclusione, invero, porterebbe ad eccessi proprietari per mezzo contrattuale e, in pari tempo, fornirebbe una giustificazione per l’introduzione del nuovo diritto del produttore dei dati, ultimo tassello di una deriva proprietaria che parrebbe inarrestabile. Qualora si accetti che il diritto sui generis sia sufficientemente flessibile da potersi adattare all’IA, ne seguirebbe che esso potrebbe costituire la soluzione al problema annoso della protezione delle opera dell’ingegno create dall’IA. La dottrina minoritaria, infatti, relega queste ultime al dominio pubblico perché in esse mancherebbe – e quest’autore ne conviene – quel tocco personale che connota la creatività nel diritto d’autore europeo. In questo contributo, in conclusione, si propone di sfruttare l’assenza del requisito della creatività e proteggere le opere dell’ingegno create dall’IA in modo indiretto tramite, appunto, la costituzione di una banca dati protetta dal diritto sui generis, che potrebbe alfine liberarsi dale maglie asfittiche a cui la Corte di Giustizia dell’UE l’ha sin qui condannato. PLEASE CITE AS Guido Noto La Diega, ‘Artificial Intelligence and Databases in the Age of Big Machine Data’ (2019) 25 AIDA 2018 93-149
Anno XXVII 2018
Isbn 9788828809807
Artificial Intelligence and databases in the age of big
machine data
Artificial Intelligence and databases in the age of big machine
data  ()
« Hoc qui existimat fieri potuisse, non intellego cur non idem putet, si
innumerabiles unius et viginti formae litterarum vel aureae vel quales-
libet aliquo coiciantur, posse ex iis in terram excussis annales Ennii ut
deinceps legi possint effici; quod nescio an ne in uno quidem versu
possit tantum valere fortuna » Cicero,
De natura deorum
, 2.37
SUMMARY. 1. Introduction. – 2. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning: defini-
tions and developments. – 3. Context and definitions in the Database Directive. – 4. Da-
tabase copyright in cerca d’autore. – 5. A sui generis right for a sui generis database? – 6.
Infringement, exceptions, and data mining in the Digital Single Market. – 7. The AI data-
base’s owner armoury beyond the Database Directive: technical protection measures,
contracts, and unfair competition. – 8. Not the end of the road.
1. This paper deals with the databases made by means of Artificial Intelligence
(1) technologies (hereinafter ‘AI databases’), which can intervene in the stage of
obtaining the contents of a databases, as well as in the verification and presentation
(2). The overarching research question is whether AI databases can be protected
under the copyright and sui generis regimes provided by the Database Directive (3).
The topic is interwoven with some of the most pressing issues in copyright law, i.e.
the alleged unfitness of the sui generis right for machine data and big data (4), the
originality of dehumanised works (5), the text and data mining exception (6) in the
 Questo scritto ha ricevuto un giudizio positivo di un referee.
() The author is indebted to Estelle Derclaye, Marco Ricolfi, Rossana Ducato, James C.
Bell, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful suggestions. Thanks to Valentina Borgese
and Alessia Palladino for the precious research assistance. Opinions and errors are solely the
(1) AI, umbrella term for autonomous and ‘intelligent’ technologies, will be analysed in
the next section.
(2) Conversely, this paper will leave out those databases whose makers use AI as an aid,
but where the human element remains prevalent.
(3) Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996
on the legal protection of databases [1996] OJ L 77/20 (hereinafter the Database Directive or
the Directive).
(4) JIIP and Technopolis Group, Study in support of the evaluation of Directive 96/9/EC
on the legal protection of databases – Final report, European Commission, Brussels, 2018, v.
(5) See, e.g., IHALAINEN,
Computer creativity: artificial intelligence and copyright
, in
2018, IX, 724; RAMALHO,
Will Robots Rule the (Artistic) World? A Proposed Model for
the Legal Status of Creations by Artificial Intelligence Systems (13 June 2017)
, available at; BRIDY, Coding Creativity: Copyright and the Artificially
Intelligent Author, in Stan Tech L Rev 2012, V, 1; GUADAMUZ, Do androids dream of electric
copyright? Comparative analysis of originality in artificial intelligence generated works, in IPQ
2017, II, 169.
AIDA 2018
context of the proposed EU reform of copyright (7), and data ownership (e.g. the
infamous data producer’s right) (8).
In 2018, the European Commission evaluated the impact of the Database Di-
rective, with a focus on the sui generis right and machine data (9). When the di-
rective was drafted, it was the time of CDs (10), and the now forgotten song ‘End
of the Road’ was dominating the Billboard charts. Since then, technologies have
been developing dramatically, with AI providing unprecedented tools to extract val-
ue from Big Machine Data (11), and databases coming back into style thanks to the
blockchain (12) and other distributed ledger technologies (13). The argument has
been put forward that the database protection regime is no longer adequate, also in
light of the importance of the data economy, whose overall value reached 300 bil-
lion in 2016, and it is set to increase to 739 billion with an overall impact of 4%
on the EU GDP by 2020 (14). Conversely, the database market in EU is utterly
stagnant (15). Said inadequacy led the European Parliament to call on the Com-
(6) Hereinafter, text and data mining will be referred to as simply data mining for reada-
bility purposes.
(7) Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright
in the Digital Single Market (COM/2016/0593 final) (Draft Copyright Directive in the Digital
Single Market).
(8) See Commission Staff Working Document on the Free Flow of Data And Emerging
Issues of the European Data Economy - accompanying the document Communication Build-
ing a European data economy, COM(2017) 9 final (10 January 2017).
(9) Commission Staff Working Document,
Evaluation of Directive 96/9/EC on the legal
protection of databases
{SWD(2018) 147 final}.
(10) The fact that the draft Database Directive had the CD-ROM market as reference is
confirmed by the Explanatory Memorandum to the Directive. For a history of the introduction
of the Database Directive, see DAVISON,
The legal protection of databases
, Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, Cambridge, 2003, 51 ff..
(11) By ‘Big Machine Data’, we mean the big quantity of data produced by machines, in
particular in the context of the Internet of Things, AI, machine-to-machine (M2M) communi-
cation, Industry 4.0, cloud computing, and robotics.
(12) The blockchain in the technology used by cryptocurrencies such as BitCoin and
Ether, but goes beyond that, being “a type of database that takes a number of records and puts
them in a block […] each block is then ‘chained’ to the next block, using a cryptographic sig-
Distributed Ledger Technology: Be-
yond block chain
, 2016, Government Office for Science, London, 17). Its main features are a
persistent, tamper-evident record of the relevant transactions (e.g. smart contracts) and an in-
frastructure to authenticate the parties of the transaction. BACON ET AL.,
Blockchain Demysti-
Queen Mary University of London, School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No.
(13) Distributed ledgers are a type of database that is spread across multiple sites,
“[r]ecords are stored one after the other in a continuous ledger, rather than sorted into blocks,
but they can only be added when the participants reach a quorum” (UK GOVERNMENT CHIEF
op. cit.,
European data market. Final report
, European Commis-
sion, Brussels, 2017, 126.
Study in support of the evaluation of Directive
96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases – Annex 2: Economic analysis, European Com-
, Brussels, 2018.
mission to abolish the sui generis right (16) and the Commission to decide to keep
it (17) while suggesting the introduction of a data producer’s right as a new proper-
ty that would have done what the sui generis right had been unable to and, there-
fore, incentivise investments in data production (18).
It is this paper’s contention that, contrary to popular belief, the sui generis right
is fit for AI databases and that a different solution would lead to an overprotection
of said subject matter by contractual means. Moreover, if the sui generis right were
revitalised, there would a strong argument to reject any proposal of data property.
This contention has crucial consequences, because the sui generis right may be the
best, if not the only, way to protect AI ‘authorial’ works. Indeed, even if AI works
currently fall outside the scope of copyright law for lack of originality, they could
nonetheless be protected if part of a database. Thus, thanks to AI, the sui generis
right may become more important than it ever was.
In terms of methods, this work focuses on statutes and case law on databases
from an EU perspective. National implementations will be considered only margin-
ally and the UK will be the main reference for a threefold reason (19). First, the UK
has been the first Member State to regulate computer-generated works (20). Sec-
ond, whilst in principle AI works can hardly be considered original under the EU
standard of originality – the author’s own intellectual creation (21) – they might be
under the British one, i.e. skill, labour, or judgement (22). Third, the UK is the
most productive database maker in the EU (23). The paper looks at the law as it
(16) European Parliament resolution of 19 January 2016 on Towards a Digital Single
Market Act (2015/2147(INI)) (2018/C 011/06), para 108.
(17) Commission,
, cit..
(18) Commission,
Free flow of data
, cit..
(19) Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997, S.I. 1997 n. 3032, amending
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 (Part II), and introducing the ‘database right’
(Part III). Not all Member States were timely in the transposition. It is noteworthy that the
Court of Justice’s first rulings on the Database Directive found the Member States liable for
non-transposition of the Directive. See Court of Justice 13 April 2000,
Commission v Luxem-
, case C-348/99, in ECR, 2000, I, 2917 and Court of Justice 11 January 2001,
sion v Ireland
, case C-370/99, ivi, 2001, I, 297.
(20) Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, Section 9(3), 12(7), 79(2)(c), 81(2),
178, 214, 263.
(21) Court of Justice 16 July 2009,
, case C-5/08, in
European Court Reports
2009, I
6569, para. 36. See VALENTI’s comment in this
, 2009, 428 ff., DERCLAYE,
Wonderful or Worrisome? The Impact of the ECJ ruling in Infopaq on UK Copright Law
, in
2010, V, 247 ff., and TRABUCO,
Com onze palavrinhas apenas (…): a reprodução tem-
porária de obras e a actividade de press clipping
, in
Cadernos de Direito Privado
2009, 38 ff..
(22) In theory, after
, the UK adopted the EU standard of originality, though this
is said to have no practical consequences in
The Newspaper Licensing Agency and others v
Meltwater Holding BV and others [
2011] EWCA Civ 890. However, with the UK leaving the
EU, the country may return to the previous, arguably lower and certainly more AI-friendly,
standard of originality.
Final report
, cit., 6. This is used as an argument to
assert that it is unlikely that the EU-stemming database regime will be repealed by the UK after
Brexit. This has been argued by RAMALHO and GOMEZ GARCIA,
Copyright after Brexit,
2017, VIII, 669, 670, who refer to the data presented in DG Internal Market and Ser-
vices Working Paper,
First evaluation of Directive 96/9/EC on the legal protection of data-
AIDA 2018
currently stands, and it assesses whether and how it can be applied in the selected
technological environment. De lege ferenda considerations will be kept to a mini-
mum. The focus of this paper is on AI making databases, but AI is relevant from a
database perspective also because the relevant technologies can be used to infringe
database rights, prevent their infringement, and enforce them (e.g. filters and auto-
mated takedown procedures). These aspects will be dealt with only in so far as they
can contribute to answer the main research question.
The structure of this paper is as follows. The first part will introduce AI tech-
nologies and their relevance from a database perspective. Second, the database cop-
yright will be analysed more in depth to resolve the problems of non human au-
thorship, originality, and ownership of AI databases. Third, a study of the aspects of
the sui generis right which are more relevant and problematic follows. Fourth, in-
fringement and exceptions will be critically analysed, with a focus on the legality of
AI-powered data mining. Before concluding, an analysis of the database protection
beyond the Database Directive will be presented, with a focus on technological pro-
tection measures (TPMs), contracts, and unfair competition.
2. In observing the AI debate, it has been noted (24) that there is a polarisation
between ‘Singularitarians’ (25) and ‘AItheists’ (26). The former are sure that true
superintelligence is around the corner and it will disrupt everything we know, thus
leading to an apocalyptic scenario where human labour will become useless and
human being will become the machines’ slaves. In turn, the latter argue that even
imagining an intelligent machine is preposterous and in any case no real disruption
will come, since we will able to keep machines under our control. While there is no
agreement on the timescales and the degree to which AI will change our world, it is
can be accepted that this set of technologies is already having a palpable impact on
several aspects of our life (27), with wide-ranging consequences, including the ne-
cessity to rethink some intellectual property principles and rules (28).
(Brussels, 12 December 2005).
(24) L. Floridi,
Should we be afraid of AI
?, in
(9 May 2016), available at
(25) For those who are not familiar with this kind of literature, the reference is to K.
The singularity is near: When Humans Transcend Biology
(New York: Viking,
2006). An eminent intellectual belonging to this class was Stephen Hawking, who said that
‘the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.’ (R. CEL-
Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind
(2 December
2014), available at
(26 )See, eg, J.R. SEARLE, ‘What your computer can’t know’
The New York Review of
The AI revolution in science
, in
, 7 August 2017 and HARARI,
Reboot for the AI revolution
, in Nature, 2017, MMDCLXXVI, 324.
(28) Cf., to name some of the relevant recent literature, LUPU,
Artificial Intelligence and
Intellectual Property
, in
World Patent Information
and CLARK,
Creative machines: ownership of copyright in content created by artificial intelli-
gence applications
, in
2017, VIII, 457; IHALAINEN,
op. cit
., 724; RAMALHO,
Will Robots
, cit.; SCHAFER,
Editorial: The future of IP law in an age of artificial intelligence
, in
2016, III, 283; BRIDY,
op. cit
People Not Machines: Authorship and
What It Means in the Berne Convention
, in
2018, II, 131; GUADAMUZ,
op. cit
., 169; KA-
Even though there is not generally accepted definition of artificial intelligence,
it is useful to briefly refer to the most common attempts to better define the scope
of this paper.
The scholar who coined the phrase (29) ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (30) defined AI
as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent
computer programs” (31). According to another commonly cited (32) definition,
AI is the “simulation of human intelligence on a machine, so as to make the ma-
chine efficient to identify and use the right piece of ‘Knowledge’ at a given step of
solving a problem” (33). Both definitions shift the problem to the understanding of
what is ‘intelligence’, problem that had one of its most fortunate, albeit open to crit-
icism (34), solutions in the Turing test, according to which a machine is intelligent
if, playing the ‘imitation game’ a human could not distinguish between responses
from a machine and a human (35).
The Rise of the Robo Notice
, in
Communications of the ACM 2015
, IX,
, How copyright law can fix artificial intelligence’s implicit bias problem
, in
Washington Law Review
, 2018, II, 579; PEREL and ELKIN-KOREN,
Accountability in Algo-
rithmic Copyright Enforcement
, in
Stan. Tech. L. Rev
. 2016, 473; PEREL and ELKIN-KOREN,
Black Box Tinkering: Beyond Disclosure in Algorithmic Enforcement
, in
Fla. L. Rev
. 2017,
Generating Rembrandt: Artificial Intelligence
countability and Copyright - The Human-Like Workers Are Already Here - A New Model
, in
Michigan State Law Review (forthcoming
Machine Rules. Of Drones,
Robots, and the Info-Capitalist Society
, in
Italian LJ
. 2016, II, 367 ff.. The literature on AI
and intellectual property dates back to the Eighties, with one of the first works being the semi-
Can a computer be an author-copyright aspects of artificial intelligence
, in
Comm/Ent LS
. 1981, IV, 707 ff., and SAMUELSON,
Allocating Ownership Rights in Comput-
er-Generated Works
, in
University of Pittsburgh Law Review
1985, 1185 ff..
(29) Unlike the phrase, the concept and the relevant studies date back at least to the early
Forties, and, in particular, to MCCULLOCH and PITTS, A logical calculus of the ideas imma-
nent in nervous activity, in
Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics
1943, IV, 115, as noted inter
alia by RUSSELL and NORVIG, A
rtificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach
, 3rd ed, Prentice
Hall, Upper Saddle River, 2009, 16.
(30) John McCarthy coined the term in 1955 when he set up a research group and then
organised the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence. See MCCARTHY,
A proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Pro-
ject on Artificial Intelligence (31 August 1955)
, available at http:// raysolomon- The role of McCarthy and the conference is uni-
versally recognised, but see the critical remarks of KLINE, Cybernetics, Automata Studies, and
the Dartmouth Conference on Artificial Intelligence, in IEEE Annals of the History of Compu-
ting 2010, IV, 5 ff..
What is artificial intelligence?
(12 November 2007), available at
(32) See, e.g., SHUKLA, TIWARI, and KALA,
Real Life Applications of Soft Computing
CRC, Boca Raton, 2010, 9.
(33) KONAR,
Artificial Intelligence and Soft Computing. Behavioral and Cognitive Model-
ing of the Human Brain
, CRC, Boca Raton, 1999, 1.2.
(34) It would seem, however, that the Turing test is still the main test to assess machine
intelligence. See LACURTS,
Criticisms of the Turing Test and why you should ignore (most of)
, in
Official Blog of MIT’s Course: Philosophy and Theoretical Computer Science
(35) TURING,
Computing Machinery and Intelligence
, in
1950, CCXXXVI, 433,
AIDA 2018
One of the main distinctions in the field is between a general, strong, or full AI
on the one hand, and an applied, narrow, or weak AI on the other hand. Whereas
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) may finally replace humans because it seeks to
“engineer human-level general intelligence-based theoretical models” (36), narrow
AI “develops software to solve limited practical problems”(37), hence it is intrinsi-
cally aimed not to replace humans, but to improve their life, for instance in the
fields of predictive analytics, driverless cars, care robots, speech recognition, and
data mining. While to some AGI “starts looking like an attainable goal” (38), this
paper will consider chiefly narrow AI for a twofold reason. First, because of the
methodological option to focus on current scenarios, as opposed to future ones.
Second, because of the importance of data mining, a typical example of narrow AI
(39), in the context of the creation of databases and of the infringement of the rele-
vant rights, as it will be explained below. For the purposes of this paper, AI is an
umbrella term encompassing a number of technologies that make machines (hard-
ware and software) increasingly autonomous (40) from the human beings (devel-
opers and users), the main of which are machine learning and deep learning. It may
be useful to briefly examine said technologies.
Machine learning is a subset of AI that, existing at the intersection of statistics,
AI, and computer science, aims at extracting knowledge from data sets (41). It ena-
bles automated learning, by having computers learning from input available to them,
i.e. converting experience into expertise or knowledge (42). A key element machine
learning is the expectation that “the accuracy of the computer algorithm will im-
prove over time […] as a result of feedback concerning previous accuracy” (43). As
an example, Facebook uses machine learning algorithms inter alia to rank feeds,
ads, and search results (44).
The path to more general artificial intelligence
, in
Journal of Experimen-
tal & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence
2014, III, 343 ff..
(37) Ibidem.
CommAI: Evaluating the first steps towards a useful general AI
, in
2017 : 5th International Conference on Learning Representations - Workshop Track,
Toulon, 24-26 April 2017.
(39) Ibidem.
(40) On the relation between AI and autonomy see, for instance, MORRIS, SCHLENOFF,
A Remarkable Resurgence of Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Auto-
mation and Autonomy
, in
IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering
, 2017,
II, 407 ff., that underline how “[t]he transition from automation to autonomy is one of the
striking features of the rise of AI and [machine learning]” (ivi, 408).
A taxonomy of artificial intelligence ap-
proaches for adaptive distributed real-time embedded systems
, in 2016
IEEE International
Conference on Electro Information Technology
, 2016, 233.
Understanding Machine Learning: From Theo-
ry to Algorithms
, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014, 1.
Machine learning
, in UPTON and COOK (eds),
A Dictionary of Statistics
, 3 ed., Ox-
ford University Press, Oxford, ad vocem.
(44) On the hardware and software infrastructure that supports Facebook’s machine
learning algorithms, see HAZELWOOD ET AL.,
Applied Machine Learning at Facebook: A Data-
center Infrastructure Perspective
(2017) <
2017/12/hpca-2018-facebook.pdf> accessed 29 August 2018.
Deep learning algorithms, in turn, are “inspired by the structure and function
of the brain called artificial neural networks” (45).
The computer that uses deep learning develops “complicated concepts by
building them out of simpler ones” (46); the graph representing how the concepts
are built is ‘deep’, “with many layers” (47). Machine learning, be it deep or not, is
usually ‘supervised’, where the learning happens as a result of the training of the al-
gorithm with labelled datasets (48).
For instance, Facebook image recognition (49) is supervised (50), which
means that there is a human operator labelling a picture, say, of a cat as ‘cat’.
The importance of the involvement of humans in this type of machine learning
made some emphatically, albeit not incorrectly, say that machine learning is a myth
On the opposite end of the spectrum there is unsupervised learning, where the
algorithm is trained with unlabelled data, therefore it learns in a way which is simi-
lar to the human one, i.e. by experiencing the world, rather than by being told the
name of every object (52).
In recent years, finally, semi-supervised learning has emerged and gained
popularity (53).
Less labour-intensive than the supervised learning and more accurate (54) than
the unsupervised one, an example of it is Alexa, Amazon’s AI-powered virtual assis-
tant, which learns how to decipher its users’ voice both with operators listening and
op. cit
., 233. However, as noted by
Neural Networks; An Introduction, Springer Sci-
ence & Business Media
, Berlin-Heidelberg, 1995, 13, neural networks models can be deemed
to be derived from research into the nature of the brain only in “a loose sense”. It has been
noted that neural networks “while they indeed have something to do with brains, their study
also makes contact with other branches of science, engineering and mathematics” (GURNEY,
An Introduction to Neural Networks
, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 2014, 1).
Deep learning,
MIT Press, Cambridge
(Ma), 2016, 2.
(47) Ibidem.
(48) LECUN, BENGIO, HINTON, Deep learning, in Nature 2015, VMMDLIII, 436 ff..
(49) It may be useful to keep in mind that the true challenge of AI is “solving the tasks
that are easy for people to perform but hard for people to describe formally – problems that we
solve intuitively, that feel automatic, like recognizing spoken words or faces in images”
(50) See MAHAJAN ET AL.,
Exploring the Limits of Weakly Supervised Pretraining
, in
, 2018, available at
Self-driving cars prove to be labour-intensive for humans
, in
, 9 July 2017, who denounces the poor conditions of the relevant workers.
op. loc. ult. cit..
(53) See, for instance, RODRIGUEZ,
Google Expander and the Emergence of Semi-
Supervised Learning
, in
Medium, 20 November 2016
, available at
1919592bfc49, accessed 29 August 2018.
(54) Cf. LIANG and KLEIN,
Analyzing the Errors of Unsupervised Learning
, in
ings of ACL-08
, Columbus, Cwmbran, 2008, 879.
AIDA 2018
labelling, as well as autonomously interpreting unlabelled data (55).
The difference between the different forms of learning is relevant from our per-
spective because in most scenarios it is easier to assess whether there is infringe-
ment of a database if data are extracted or otherwise used using a supervised learn-
ing model; indeed, this will require the involvement of human operators to label the
data. Conversely, it may prove more complicated to assess whether there has been
infringement in instances where there are no humans involved. More on this later.
In the Eighties (56), it was predicted that the integration of AI and databases
would have become critical “for the next generation of computing” (57). However,
only recently (58) AI databases are becoming popular, thanks to the fact that AI
promises to “simultaneously ingest, explore, analyze, and visualize fast-moving,
complex data within milliseconds” (59). The ongoing relevance in the academic de-
bate is confirmed by an annual international conference an AI and databases (60),
and by the International Journal of Intelligent Information and Database Systems.
Four scenarios can illustrate how AI and databases are interwoven, from a law-
yer’s perspective. The first two regard databases created by human beings using AI-
produced data, either by creatively selecting and arranging the data, or by investing
(55) ANDERS,
“Alexa, Understand Me”
, in
MIT Technology Review
, 9 August 2017,
available at, accessed 29
August 2018.
(56) In the Eighties, AI scholars started looking into the relationship between AI and da-
tabases. See e.g. SCHOEN, SMITH, and BUCHANAN,
Design of knowledge-based systems with a
knowledge-based assistant
, in
IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering
, 1988, XII, 1771;
Readings in Artificial Intelligence and Databases, Kaufmann,
San Mateo
, 1989; the Working Conference on the Role of Artificial Intelligence in Databases
and Information Systems, Guangzhou, PR China, 4-8 July, 1988 (proceedings published as
MEERSMAN (ed), Artificial Intelligence in Databases and Information Systems (DS-3), Else-
vier Science, New York, 1990). From then on, there has been a constant interest for the topic,
as exemplified, in the Nineties, by PARSAYE and CHIGNELL,
Intelligent database tools & appli-
, Wiley, 1993, BEYNON-DAVIES,
Expert Database Systems: A Gentle Introduction,
, 1991, and MARIK and LAZANSKY,
Database and Expert Systems Applications
Springer, 1993; in the 2000s, by LAST, KANDEL, and HORST,
Data Mining In Time Series
Databases, World Scientific
Intelligent Database Sys-
, Addison-Wesley, 2001, and Ma, Intelligent Databases, Idea Group, 2007; and, finally, in
the current decade, by LI, Intelligent Multimedia Databases and Information Retrieval, IGI
Global, 2011, Brodie, Mylopoulos, and Schmidt, On Conceptual Modelling, Springer Science,
Boca Raton, 2012, and BARBUCHA, NGUYEN, and BATUBARA (eds),
New Trends in Intelligent
Information and Database Systems
, Springer, Cham-Heidleberg-New York-Dordrecht-
London, 2015.
(57) BRODIE,
Future Intelligent Information Systems: AI and Database Technologies
Working Together
, in MYLOPOULOS and BRODIE (eds), op. cit., 623.
(58) The integration of AI and databases is recently gaining commercial success, howev-
er, it is not a new phenomenon. See, e.g. SCHOEN, SMITH, and BUCHANAN,
op. cit.
, 1771;
Automating workflows for service order processing: integrating AI and da-
tabase technologies
, in
IEEE Expert
1994, V, 19 ff.
(59) A spokesperson of data management company Kinetica interviewed by MARVIN,
Databases: What they are and why your business should care
, in
, 26 October
(60) The Asian Conference on Intelligent Information and Database Systems has reached
its 11th edition, that will take place in Indonesia, 8-11 April 2019.
significantly in the obtainment, verification, or presentation thereof. At the centre of
the third scenario, is an AI selecting or arranging data from various sources, whilst
the last one regards an AI that obtains, verifies, or present said data. Artificial intel-
ligence is relevant from a database perspective for a number of reasons, but mainly
because, on the one hand, the underlying technologies require large datasets to use
to train the algorithms (61), which begs the question whether AI-enabled data min-
ing, scraping, and crawling are lawful and whether the output of these processes
can be protected. On the other hand, AI produces big machine data and can create
databases with the information derived therefrom. AI needs big data (62), produces
them through data mining and other techniques (63), and has the ability to set up
and manage proper databases (64), the legal regime of which does not seem entire-
ly clear (65).
Finally, from a legal perspective it is immaterial whether a consensus can be
reached on how to define AI and its technologies. Conversely, it is crucial to keep in
mind two circumstances. First, most state-of-the-art AI applications require human
involvement, for instance in the forms of labelling in supervised and semi-
supervised learning. Second, intelligence and autonomy are still weak; whereas ap-
plied AI is indeed becoming ubiquitous, strong AI is still quite not here yet, though
it may be on the horizon. While we sail towards it with a strong wind behind us, we
had better focus on the legal issues in the technologies that are already here and
constitute a non-negligible challenge to lawyers and lawmakers. A technological
confusion between discrete concepts such as AI, bid data, and the Internet of
Things characterises the 2018 evaluation of the Database Directive and may con-
tribute to explain why the Commission seems inclined to think that the sui generis
right is not fit for machine data.
3. In the early Nineties, supported by the TRIPs (66), at the EU (then Europe-
(61) However, there are a number of difficulties deriving from the use of large datasets.
Several solutions have been developed, see e.g. BELABBAS and WOLFE,
Spectral methods in
machine learning and new strategies for very large datasets
, in
2009, II, 369 ff.; XING
Petuum: A New Platform for Distributed Machine Learning on Big Data
, in
Transactions on Big Data
2015, II, 49 ff.., YE ET AL.,
Building feedforward neural networks
with random weights for large scale datasets
, in
Expert Systems With Applications
2018, 233
ff. (62) See, e.g., ASSEFI ET AL.,
Big data machine learning using apache spark MLlib
, in
IEEE International Conference on Big Data
, Boston, 11-14 December 2017; HUANG
and LIU,
Big data machine learning and graph analytics: Current state and future challenges
in 2014
IEEE International Conference on Big Data
, Washington DC, 27-30 October 2014.
(63) Cf. XUE and ZHANG,
Evolutionary feature manipulation in data mining/big data
, in
, 2017, I, 4 ff.
A semantics-
preserving markup language for knowledge representation in quenching
, in
Artificial Intelli-
gence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing
, 2013, I, 65; RHEINECKER,
Networks Debuts AI-Based Agentless Database Activity Monitoring
, in
Wireless News
, 16 De-
cember 2016; MARVIN,
op. loc. ult. cit
op. loc. ult. cit
and SINGH and HIHNS,
op. loc. ult. cit
(65) Commission,
, cit.
(66) Agreement of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, Article 10(2).
AIDA 2018
an Community) level was felt that something needed to be done to bridge the gap
between the flourishing US database industry and the floundering local one (67).
This was the main economic justification of the creation of a much contested (68)
sui generis right protecting investments of database makers, regardless of the origi-
nality of databases. Alongside, it was considered that the different national laws on
databases could constitute a factor of fragmentation of the single market and, there-
fore the Directive harmonised, although only partly, the copyright laws applicable to
the original databases (69). The third objective was the safeguard of “the balance of
interests between database users and database makers” (70). The evaluations con-
ducted by the Commission in 2005 (71) and 2018 (72) and a review of the relevant
EU case law (73) confirms that the adoption and transposition of said instrument
did not achieve any of the objectives above.
In terms of scope of protection, the Database Directive defines a database
broadly, setting out three requirements (74): i. A collection of independent works,
data or other materials; ii. A systematic or methodical arrangement; iii. Individual
First, the materials need to be separate and not interact with each other (75).
The materials must be separable from one another without the informative, literary,
artistic, musical or other value of their contents being affected (76). The concept of
Rethinking Intellectual Property. Balancing Conflicts of Interest in the Constitutional
Edward Elgar, 2018, 241-242 points out that whereas the TRIPS justifies database
copyright, there is no international foundation for the sui generis right.
(67) Database Directive, recitals 11 and 11; Commission,
, cit., 18.
(68) The most significant case in this regard is Judgment of the Court of Justice 15 Janu-
ary 2015,
, case C-30/14, in
Computer Law Review International
2015, 83 with a
comment by ELTESTE,
EU: Contractual Limitations for Database Use - Screen Scraping.
Autonomy, comparison websites, and Ryanair
, in
2015, 386; CASTETS-
La liberté contractuelle et la réservation de l’information des bases de données non
protégées devant la CJUE
, in
Droit de l’immatériel
2015, 8; GUPTA and DEVAIAH,
The Database Directive “contracting out” bar: does it apply to unprotected databases?
, in
2015, 669; ROSS,
"Not Getting into a Scrape": Dispute over "Screen Scrape" Data
, in
Computer and Telecommunications Law Review
2015, 103; SYNODINOU,
Databases and
screen scraping: lawful user’s rights and contractual restrictions do not fly together
, in
2016, V, 312.
(69) Database Directive, recitals 2, 3, and 4.
(70) JIIP and Technopolis Group,
Final report,
cit., ii.
(71) DG Internal Market and Services, cit., 24.
(72) Commission,
, cit., passim.
, cit., 312.
(74) Database Directive, Article 1(1).
European Intellectual Property Law
, Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 2016, 510.
(76) Court of Justice 9 November 2004,
Fixtures Marketing v OPAP
, case C-444/02, pa-
ras. 29 and 33, in this
, 2005, 407 ff. with a comment by COGO. See also APLIN,
ECJ elucidates the Database Right
, IPQ 2005, 204. For this reason, a recording or an audio-
visual, cinematographic, literary or musical work as such does not fall within the scope” of the
Database Directive (recital 17). This is because of the “semantic continuity” of such works, as
noted by OTTOLIA,
Big data e innovazione computazionale,
I quaderni di AIDA
, n. 28,
Giappichelli, Torino, 73. See also Court of Justice 26 October 2011,
, case T-436/09,
independence has been interpreted broadly in Verlag Esterbauer (77) by consider-
ing immaterial the reduction of the autonomous value after the extraction and by
pointing out that the “autonomous informative value of material which has been ex-
tracted from a collection must be assessed in the light of the value of the infor-
mation not for a typical user of the collection concerned, but for each third party in-
terested by the extracted material” (78). The reference to ‘materials’ encompasses
both copyright and non-copyright works (79). This has a twofold consequence.
First and foremost, the sui generis right could be used to protect AI works (e.g. a
song written by an AI) even if they were not in themselves copyrightable, for in-
stance because the originality conundrum were not untangled. The sui generis right
might, therefore, become of unprecedented importance to grant some indirect pro-
tection to AI works, as a form of last recourse. Second, given that databases can in-
clude also copyright works, the AI, or its owners, will need to seek a licence from
the author of the work they want to access or rely on some other legal basis (e.g.
copyright exception for research purposes) (80). In turn, ‘data’ suggests that a da-
tabase can include also personal data, should the relevant data protection require-
ments be met. One should keep in mind that the right of access as recognised by the
EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (81) should not affect adversely
the intellectual property of others, which, in turn, cannot be used to refuse to pro-
vide all information to the data subject (82). This has a threefold consequence when
the AI includes personal data in the database: i. data subjects can access their data
in ECR, 2011, II, 7727, paras. 87, 102. On this case see LARCHÉ,
Accès aux documents
, in
2011, XII, 14 ff.. In the most recent EU case about databases, the Court stated that
“geographical information extracted from a topographic map by a third party so that that in-
formation may be used to produce and market another map retains, following its extraction,
sufficient informative value to be classified as ‘independent materials’ of a ‘database’ within the
meaning of that provision” (Court of Justice 29 October 2015,
Verlag Esterbauer
, case C-
490/14, in Dir. inf., 2016, 191, para. 30, with a comment by RESTA,
Sulla tutelabilità delle
carte geografiche ai sensi della direttiva sulle banche di dati
). See also WIEBE,
Landkarten als
Datenbanken: Der Informationswert von daten
, in
Gewerblicher Rechtsschutz und Urheber-
recht PRAX
2016, III, 49 ff..
(77) Verlag Esterbauer, cit..
, para. 27.
(79) The Database Directive is “without prejudice to the freedom of authors to decide
whether, or in what manner, they will allow their works to be included in a database” (recital
18). (80) As stated in 5 March 2009.
Apis-Hristovich EOOD v Lakorda AD
, case C-545/07,
in ECR, 2009, I, 1627,
para. 71, the fact that the “materials contained in a legal information
system are, by reason of their official nature, not eligible for copyright protection does not, as
such, justify a collection consisting of those materials being refused classification as a ‘data-
base’”. On this ruling see COGO, in this
2009, 405 ff., EICKEMEIER,
Relevanter Zeit-
punkt und Umfang einer Datenentnahme
, in
Gewerblicher Rechtsschutz und Urheberrecht
2009, 578 and RAMBAUD,
Droit sui generis des bases de données: vers un équilibre?
, in
de l’immatériel
, 2009, 6.
(81) Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27
April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data
and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Pro-
tection Regulation or GDPR) [2016] OJ L 119/1.
(82) GDPR, recital 63.
AIDA 2018
as long as this does not affect the rights on the database in an adverse way; ii. Even
when the access adversely affects the rights on the AI database, this is no good justi-
fication for a refusal to provide all information; iii. The other data subject’s rights
are not conditional to the non-infringement of an intellectual property right, there-
fore for instance data portability requests could not be rejected.
The second requirement to fall under the definition of database is that an ele-
ment internal to the database must organise the information according to methodi-
cal criteria e.g. chronological order (83). Conversely, it is not necessary for those
materials “to have been physically stored in an organized manner” (84). In princi-
ple, the elements of a database are not presented “in any fixed, immutable order,
but may be presented in a multitude of different combinations, using the technical
and other means available” (85).
Third, the database must have a system for the retrieval of each of its constitu-
ent materials (86). This does not mean, however, that the rightholder cannot re-
strict the access to only part of the database (87). Therefore, for instance, Ama-
zon’s Alexa collection of independent data including the end-user’s voice, organised
chronologically, retrievable individually, might qualify as a database, even though
the user can only access his or her data, and not the entire collection. Other users,
for instance, the operators who train the algorithm and label the data, can access
the whole of the database (88). The computer programs used in the making or op-
eration of databases are outside of the scope (89). Therefore, the AI-powered soft-
ware – e.g. Alexa – may be protected under the Software Directive (90) or as a
computer-implemented inventions, if the relevant patentability requirements are met
(91), while the relevant algorithm is more likely to be covered by a trade secret
(92). It seems that the definition is broad enough to be applicable in the context of
AI and related phenomena, therefore this author does not share the view of those
who deem “necessary to clarify/address the problem of big data, IoT, sensor-
(83) The way in which the arrangement is achieved is immaterial, unless the arrangement
is provided by an element outside the database. See Court of Justice 19 December 2013,
, case C-202/12, in JIPLP 2014, 458, with comment of BONADIO and ROVATI,
of dedicated meta-search engine infringes database right: the CJEU’s stance in Innoweb v We-
. For instance, search engines do not make a database of the internet because they are
external to the collection itself.
(84) Database Directive, recital 21.
, cit., para. 107.
(86) Fixtures Marketing v OPAP,
., paras. 31-32.
(87) One can infer this from Article 6(1) of the Database Directive.
(88) This database may fall outside the scope of the sui generis right, nevertheless, be-
cause it may be regarded as a “spin-off” database, issue on which more will be said later.
(89) Database Directive, Article 1(2).
(90) Directive 2009/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April
2009 on the legal protection of computer programs [2009] OJ L 111/16.
(91) On the legal protection of software, see NOTO LA DIEGA,
Software patents and the
Internet of Things in Europe, the United States, and India
, in
2017, III, 173 ff..
Against the dehumanisation of decision-making. Algorithmic deci-
sions at the crossroads of intellectual property, data protection, and freedom of information
, in
2018, I, 3, 12 and passim.
generated data as part of the definition” (93).
4. Regardless of the sui generis right (94), the copyright protection covers only
original databases, defined as “databases which, by reason of the selection or ar-
rangement of their contents, constitute the author’s own intellectual creation shall
be protected as such by copyright” (95). The protection regards the structure of the
materials and, accordingly, the creative effort is relevant only if it regards the selec-
tion and arrangement of the materials, not their creation, as pointed in Football
Dataco v Yahoo (96). The protection concerns only the database itself, not its con-
tents that may or may not be covered by other intellectual property rights (97).
Originality plays a pivotal role when it comes to AI databases, compared to oth-
er copyright works, because it is the only criterion for the copyright protection of
databases (98) and because originality, or the lack thereof, is arguably the main ar-
gument for the unfitness of copyright for protecting AI works. Understanding the
originality of AI databases requires a preliminary understanding of originality of AI
works. AI is increasingly creating works that, if made by humans, would probably
qualify for copyright protection. One need only think that in August 2018 auction
house Christie’s offered an AI work (99), thus signalling that buyers may consider
such works as art (100). Another example of the change in perceptions when it
comes to creativity is the fact that an AI art-generating algorithm has been ac-
claimed as “the biggest achievement of the year” (101). Many legal systems recog-
nise that copyright works can be created with the help of software and hardware
technologies. A famous example is the British regime of protection of computer-
generated works (102), which are “generated in circumstances when there is no
(93) Legal annex, cit., 13, who admit, nonetheless, that this should happen in due course,
because “it may be too early to legislate in this matter” (Ibidem). Assuming, for the sake of ar-
gument, that in the future the definition of databases will need a revision, it is crucial that this
will happen in compliance with the principle of technological neutrality. See, inter alia, CRAIG,
Technological neutrality: Recalibrating copyright in the information age
, in
Theoretical Inquir-
ies in Law
2016, II, 60 ff..
(94) There can be double protection (copyright and sui generis) on the same right, as
well only copyright or only sui generis right. See the Database Directive, Article 7(4).
(95) Database Directive, Article 3(1).
(96) Court of Justice 1 March 2012,
Football Dataco v Yahoo! UK
, case C-604/10, in
Diritto comunitario e degli scambi internazionali 2012, 269, with comment by ADOBATI,
Corte di giustizia interpreta la direttiva n. 96/9/CE sulla tutela giuridica delle banche dati
(97) Database Directive, Article 3(1).
(98) Database Directive, Article 3(1) and recital 15.
Is artificial intelligence set to become art’s next medium
?, in
20 August
2018, available at
(100) NUGENT,
The Painter Behind These Artworks Is an AI Program. Do They Still
Count as Art?
, in
, 20 August 2018.
(101) Chun,
It’s getting hard to tell if a painting was made by a computer or a human
, in
, 21 September 2017. The research of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (Rut-
gers University) is aimed at the use of AI to create proper art. Their publications are available
(102) Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, Section 9(3), 12(7), 79(2)(c), 81(2),
178, 214, 263. In Italy, whilst it is believed that machine-generated works are protected as
long as they are distinct from the computer programme that generated them and are original,
AIDA 2018
human author of the work” (103) and are authored by the person who made the
necessary arrangements to create the work (104). Though a rather advanced re-
gime, the provisions on computer-generated works are not fit for strong AI and un-
supervised machine learning, because they postulate the presence of a person to
make the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work, who will be the au-
thor (105). Conversely, the regime of computer-generated works may fit some nar-
row AI applications and supervised machine learning (should the originality equa-
tion be solved). Given that in Italy there is no ad hoc provision on computer-
generated works and given that the Italian copyright act does not limit the concept
of author to humans (106), one may go as far as to argue that the Italian regime
would be more suitable for an AI scenario than the British one (107), since it allows
machines to be authors and hence owners of the works they produce (108). Need-
less to say that this would apply only if the originality conundrum were unravelled.
The fully dehumanised production of authorial and entrepreneurial works re-
quires either interpretive stretches or, better, a legislative reform that clarifies the
crucial points of authorship and ownership of AI works. In this field, the discussion
about authorship and ownership should have an inversion. While normally one
starts with authorship because ownership follows (109), with AI works, we need
the lawmaker has not taken a position on their authorship. See, e.g., GUTIERREZ,
La tutela del
diritto di autore,
Milano, Giuffrè, 2008, 43 and ERCOLANI,
works, in
Dir. aut.
1998, 604.
(103) Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, Section 178.
(104) Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, Section 9(3).
(105) Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, Section 9(3). This section must be read
in combination with the provision that defines computer-generated works as works generated
“in circumstances such that there is
no human author
of the work” (Section 178, italics add-
ed). One can infer that this regime applies only to works where there are humans involved to
make the necessary arrangements for the creation of the work. It would not apply, however, to
the extremes of the spectrum: works where the human author makes the work with the aid of a
machine (e.g. this author using Microsoft Word) and works created by AI with no human in-
(106) Under Article 8(1)
22 April 1941 n. 633 (l.a.), the author is the entity (not
necessarily the human being) who is indicated to be the author according to custom or, who is
mentioned to be the author in the acting, execution, performance, or broadcasting of the work.
Thus, it is important to read the contracts or the terms of service to understand who the au-
thor is.
(107) An
ad hoc
regime or a revision of the current general regime would be needed to
accommodate the specific characteristics of the works generated by machines. For instance,
machines do not die, therefore the usual duration system (seventy years after the death of the
author) would be unsuitable. One could either provide
ad hoc
mechanisms (eg the British sys-
tem, with the machine-generated works falling into the public domain after fifty years from the
date they had been made), or the rise of machines could constitute a good opportunity to re-
view the current system by, for instance, limiting the duration of copyright to the author’s life-
(108) Given the current development of AI, it is still valid the theory of SAMUELSON,
, cit., 1185, whereby it is more convenient to consider the user as the original owner of
the work (even though one should assess on a case-by-case basis the individual contribution of
the user.
(109) For instance, in the UK, the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988 first defines
the author as the person who creates the work (Section 9) and then set forth the principle that
first to decide whether or not to allow forms of ownership and, if so, how to allo-
cate it. The question of whether or not to protect AI works is of political nature, be-
cause a public domain solution may be seen as inappropriate by some intellectual
property holders, whereas allowing a generalised propertisation of AI works would
be likely restrict access to knowledge and stifle creativity. At least five arguments
can be brought in favour of a weak or no copyright protection for AI works. First, it
is pivotal to prevent the monopolisation of culture. One need only think of the fa-
mous metaphor of the monkeys that, typing randomly for an infinite time, could
write Shakespeare’s complete works (110). Indeed, AI can create potentially copy-
right works faster than a group of monkeys working for the eternity, but unlike
them the ‘typing’ would not be entirely random, in that the machine would learn
and improve over time (111). Therefore, one day, every human being composing a
song, writing a book, or making a database may risk receiving a letter of cease and
desist from an AI (112). A comparative analysis provides further evidence of copy-
right’s unfitness for AI works, with no known jurisdiction clearly allowing for copy-
right protection of such works and the US that changed their practice in 2017 to
expressly exclude non-human authorship (113). Third, the traditional justifications
the author is the first owner (Section 1).
(110) It is usually accepted that the first formulation of the infinite monkey theorem is to
be attributed to BOREL,
La mécanique statique et l’irréversibilité
, in
J. Phys. Theor. Appl.
1913, I, 189 ff., who wanted to prove the point that the violation of laws of statistical mechan-
ics is impossible, as opposed to improbable. However, the concept has been traced back to
La biblioteca total
, in
1939, VIII, 13
ff. (111) Many scholars are reflecting upon animal creations to understand copyright in the
AI age. See, e.g., GUADAMUZ,
The monkey selfie: copyright lessons for originality in photo-
graphs and internet jurisdiction
, in
(I)nternet Policy Review 2016, I, 1 ff., and ROSATI,
The Monkey Selfie case and the con-
cept of authorship: an EU perspective
, in
2017, XII, 973 ff..
(112) This problem of ‘copyright trolls’, however, would have less negative consequences,
if compared to the patent trolls (or non-practicing entities), since copyright not being a mo-
nopoly it allows for independent identical creations, principle which is expressed in the re-
quirement for a claimant to prove a causal link in infringement proceedings. Equally, the im-
portance to prove that the human work predates the AI one may lead to the proliferation of
tamper-evident registration methods, which in turn may be enabled by blockchain technolo-
gies. On the emerging phenomenon of copyright trolls see DEBRIYN,
Shedding light on copy-
right trolls: An analysis of mass copyright litigation in the age of statutory damages
, in
Ent. L. Rev.
2012, 79 ff., GREENBERG,
Copyright Trolls and Presumptively Fair Uses
, in
versity of Colorado Law Review
2014, 53 ff., SAG and HASKELL,
Defense Against the Dark
Arts of Copyright Trolling
, in
Iowa Law Review
2018, 571 ff. On patent trolls, see LEMLEY
Missing the forest for the trolls
, in
Columbia Law Review
2013, VIII, 2117,
Startups and patent trolls
, in
Stan. Tech. L. Rev.
2014, 461 ff., REILLY,
Patent “trolls”
and claim construction
, in
Notre Dame L. Rev.
2016, 1045 ff., COHEN, GURUN, and
Patent Trolls: Evidence from Targeted Firms
, Harvard Business School Finance
Working Paper No. 15-002, 8 June 2018. On blockchain-enabled copyright registration see
Legal and regulatory issues in the blockchain: A focus on copy-
right law
, Blockchain and Web 3.0
(113) Under the U.S. Copyright Office,
Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices
§ 101
, USPTO, Alexandria, 2017, 313.2, “[t] o qualify as a work of ‘authorship’ a work must
be created by a human being”.
AIDA 2018
for property rights in this field hardly apply to AI works, whose copyright protection
could hardly be justified using the moral and economic foundations of copyright
(114). In fact, AI does not sweat (115), nor it needs incentives to keep being crea-
tive (116). Another argument in favour of weak or no IP protection of AI works
may be derived by the fact that the legislator showed that computer-generated
works are less deserving of protection, if compared to fully human works. In partic-
ular, this can be seen in the reduction of the terms of protection to 50 years from
the end of the year when the work was made and the exclusion of the moral rights
(117). It is this paper’s submission that with the further decrease in ‘humanity’
which one would witness with proper AI works, the protection should weaken ac-
The strongest argument in favour of AI works being receiving low or not copy-
right protection is the lack of originality, which troubled AI studies since their in-
ception. In his pioneering Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Turing reformu-
lated the question as to whether a machine can think by presenting the so-called im-
itation game. However, he had to respond to a number of critiques, at least one of
which (118) are directly related to the problem at issue here. According to the so-
called Lady Lovelace’s objection (119), computers do not think because they are
(114) See the seminal studies of BREYER,
The uneasy case for copyright: A study of copy-
right in books, photocopies, and computer programs
, in
Harvard Law Review
1970, 281;
An economic analysis of copyright law
, in
The Journal of Legal Studies
1989, II, 325 ff.; JEHORAM,
Critical reflections on the economic importance of copyright
, in
1989, IV, 485 ff..
(115) On the sweat of the brow doctrine applied to databases see GINSBURGm
‘Sweat’? Copyright and Other Protection of Works of Information After Feist v. Rural Tele-
Columbia Law Review
1992, II,338 ff.. This doctrine is rooted in a Lockean con-
ception of property. According to LOCKE,
Two Treaties of Government
, II,
Of Civil Govern-
, London, 1690, 5, §25, now in
Two Treaties of Government
, II,
Of Civil Government
London, 1821, 208, «God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them
reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience...Though the earth, and
all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person;
this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands,
we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath
provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his
own, and thereby makes it his property”.
(116) Cf. ZIMMERMAN,
Authorship without Ownership: Reconsidering Incentives in the
Digital Age
, in
DePaul L. Rev.
2002-2003, 1121 ff.. The justifications centred on the incen-
tives often overlooked that «the public interest is only truly served if copyright law provides
appropriate incentives for all parties involved» (GEIGER, GRIFFITHS, HILTY, and SUTHER-
Declaration on a balanced interpretation of the “three-step test” in copyright law
, in
2008, I, 707 ff..
(117) Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, Section 79 and 81.
(118) Another important argument points at the lack of consciousness, as beautifully ex-
pressed by JEFFERSON,
The Mind of Mechanical Man
, in
British Medical Journal,
25 June
1949, 1(4616), 1105, 1110: “not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto
because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree
that machine equals brain”. The argument, in the form of the so-called Chinese room, dates
back to SEARLE,
Minds, brains, and programs
, in
Behavioral and brain sciences
1980, III, 417
ff.. (119) According to LOVELACE, Notes by the translator, in TAYLOR (ed),
Scientific Mem-
incapable of originality, which in turn depends mainly on the fact that they do not
learn independently. Turing objects that the Countess in 1843 did not have access
to the evidence that would have convinced her that machine could indeed think and,
anyway, “[w]ho can be certain that ‘original work’ that he has done was not simply
the growth of the seed planted in him by teaching, or the effect of following well-
known general principles” (120). Turing’s counter-objection does not apply to
originality as understood in copyright law. Indeed, copyright law is aware that we
are nanos gigantum humeris insidentes (121) and that, therefore, the human crea-
tion builds on existing knowledge: what is required is only the link between the
work and the author’s intellectual effort.
Grasping originality in copyright law, however, has been and still is not an easy
task (122) also because its meaning must be construed in the specific meaning that
it has when applied to databases (123). As correctly suggested (124), one should
look separately at selective databases and databases protected by reason of the ar-
rangement of the contents. The first ones, exemplified by a guide book (whose au-
thor has to select only certain information to communicate to the tourist), is pro-
tected because of the creative freedom in the selection of the contents (125). Data
mining, crawling, and scraping will be analysed below, and it will be critically as-
, 3, Taylor, London, 1843, 666, note G, the “Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatev-
er to
anything. It can do whatever we
know how to order it
to perform. It can
analysis; but it has no power of
any analytical relations or truths” (italics in the
original). The Analytical Engine was Charles Babbage’s unbuilt invention considered as a fore-
runner of the electronic calculating computers. See FUEGI and FRANCIS,
Lovelace & Babbage
and the Creation of the 1843 ‘Notes’
, in
IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
2003, IV,
16 ff..
(120) TURING,
op. cit.
, 450. Ibid, the Author reformulate the objection as ‘the machines
cannot take us by surprise’, but this formulation is even less relevant from a copyright perspec-
tive. (121) Notoriously, JOHN OF SALISBURY,
(1159), trans. Doyle MacGarry,
University of California Press, Oakland, 1955, 167, attributed the metaphor of the giants
standing on the giants’ shoulders to Bernard DE CHARTRES.
(122) As a testament to the fact that the originality problem was never resolved see, e.g.,
Il plagio letterario e il carattere creativo dell’opera
, Milano, Giuffrè, 1966; OLSON,
Copyright originality
, in
Missouri Law Review
1983, I, 29; PARCHOMOVSKY and STEIN,
, in
Virginia Law Review
, 2009, VI, 1505; ROSATI,
Originality in a Work, or a Work of
Originality: The Effects of the Infopaq Decision
, in
J. Copyright Soc’y USA
, 2010, LVIII, 795;
Originality in EU Copyright: Full Harmonization through Case Law
, Elgar, Chelten-
ham-Northampton, 2013; LIU,
Of originality: originality in English copyright law: past and
, in
, 2014, VI, 376 ff.; MARGONI,
The harmonisation of EU copyright law: the
originality standard
, in PERRY (ed),
Global Governance of Intellectual Property in the 21st
, Springer, Cham, 2016, 85 ff.; CASABURI,
Originalità, creatività, elaborazione crea-
tive, citazione e plagio: Profili evolutivi
, in
Foro it.
2017, XII, 3779; ROSATI,
Why originality
in copyright is not and should not be a meaningless requirement
, in
2018, VIII, 597 ff..
(123) The first scholars to stress this were L.C. UBERTAZZI,
Raccolte elettroniche di dati
e diritto d’autore: prime riflessioni
, in Alpa (ed),
La tutela giuridica del software
, Giuffré, Mi-
lano, 1984, 51 and 53 and DI CATALDO,
Banche-dati e diritto sui generis: la fattispecie costi-
, in
this Journal
1997, 20 and 21.
(124) SPADA,
Banche dati e diritto d’autore (il “genere” del diritto d’autore sulle banche
, in
this Journal
1997, 5.
(125) Ivi, 6.
AIDA 2018
sessed if they can be seen as an expression of creative freedom. ‘Arrangement’, in
turn, corresponds to coordination and arrangement as in Feist (126), i.e. linkage
between the contents and in the order given to the them (127). If there is creative
freedom in the way the contents are arranged or coordinated, then the database will
be protected as a copyright work. AI, and in particular but not exclusively deep
learning, can be used to find patterns that humans missed and, therefore, it could
lead to a non-banal linkage between the data. However, would this be the author’s
own intellectual creation? No, if the author is the developer or the owner of the AI,
because it is not their creation. No, still, if the author is the AI because under cur-
rent laws AI do not have personality.
In the domain of databases, the Directive covers “databases which, by reason of
the selection or arrangement of their contents, constitute the author’s own intellec-
tual creation shall be protected as such by copyright” (128). This goes beyond the
concept of original as not copied, as in Paolo Spada’s intuition (129). Looking at
the travaux préparatoires, one finds the express reference to the presence of a hu-
man author as a general principle, whereas legal persons as owners of databases are
mere “deviations to that rules […] merely tolerated” (130). The reference to a hu-
man author may be explained by a twofold circumstance. First, technologies already
allowed the automation of databases (131). Second, databases are intrinsically less
creative than traditional authorial works and clarifying ‘human’ may have acted as a
delimitation of the scope of protection. While interesting, the travaux préparatoires
will not play a key role in the interpretation of the Database Directive because said
reference is not mirrored in any of the provisions of the directive (132).
The Court of Justice provided some guidance in Football Dataco by defining
originality as the author’s creative ability to make free and creative choice in the se-
lection or arrangement of the contents, thus stamping his or her personal touch on
the database (133). In other words, the Court did not made the effort to provide a
definition of originality that takes into account the intrinsic characteristics of the
Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co
., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), pu-
blished also in
Dir. inf
. 1992, 111 with a comment by ZOPPINI,
Itinerari americani ed europei
nella tutela delle compilazione: dagli annuari alle banche dati
. For a comparative analysis be-
tween the US and the EU, see MAZUMDER,
Database Law: Persepctives from India
, Springer,
Singapore, 2016; DAVISON,
op. cit.
, 160 ff., and DERCLAYE,
The legal protection
, cit., 223 ff.,
Intellectual property rights on information and market power - comparing Euro-
pean and American protection of databases,
2007, III, 275 ff., and TABREZ and
Comparative Analysis of Copyright Protection of Databases: The Path to Follow
, in
Journal of Intellectual Property Rights
2011, II.
(127) This view, first presented by SPADA
op. loc. cit.,
has been recently developed by
Footprints of Feist in European Database Directive: A legal analysis of IP Law-making
Europe, Springer
, Singapore, 2017.
(128) Database Directive, Article 3.
(129) SPADA,
op. cit.
, 10.
(130) RAMALHO,
Will robot rule,
cit., 7.
(131) See, e.g., Schoen, Smith, and Buchanan,
op. cit.
, 1771.
(132) On the advantages and disadvantages in the use of such interpretive aids see, re-
cently, PRISLAN,
Domestic explanatory documents and treaty interpretation
, in
International &
Comparative Law Quarterly
2017, IV, 923 ff..
Football Dataco
, cit., para 38.
subject matter. It merely referred to the leading cases in matters of originality
(134). The ‘personal touch’ is a fuzzy concept which can be applied in a relatively
easy way to works such as artistic works or traditional literary works such as books.
Conversely, it is not easy to imagine how a database can exhibit its author’s person-
al touch. The matter may be different if the originality threshold were the traditional
British standard of skill, labour, or judgement (135), because it can take a lot of
skill, labour, and judgement to make a database. However, the Court of Justice ex-
pressly excluded the application of any criterion other than originality (136), and
this means at least two things. First, it is immaterial whether or not the selection or
arrangement of the contents includes “adding important significance” (137) there-
to. Second, and more importantly, skill, labour, and judgement are irrelevant “if
that labour and that skill do not express any originality in the selection or arrange-
ment” (138). The shortcomings of the Court’s guidance are reflected in the fact
that, even it has been claimed that originality standard for copyright protection of
databases has been harmonised “across the EU Member States, there is evidence
that the national courts are still uncertain on how to apply it” (139). Even though
national variations should not be ignored, in principle the EU standard of originality
leaves little scope for a copyright protection of databases and this applies all the
more to AI databases. Indeed, the database is not original if its setting up “is dictat-
ed by technical considerations, rules or constraints which leave no room for creative
freedom” (140). This sentence must be construed as meaning that databases whose
setting up is dictated by technical considerations, rules or constraints can be origi-
nal, if there is still room for the author’s creative freedom. In the current system,
the epicentre is the human author, therefore only databases that are expression of a
human’s intellectual creation can be protected (141). Arguably, most AI databases
cannot be protected because they cannot meet the EU standard of originality (142).
Infopaq International
, cit., para. 45; Court of Justice 22 December 2010,
Bezpečnostní softwarová asociace
, case C-393/09, para. 50, in
, 2010, I, 13971; and
Court of Justice, 1 December 2011,
, case C-145/10, paras. 89 and 92, in this
2012, 486. On the latter, with a focus on the originality conundrum, see also MICHAUX,
notion d’originalité en droit d’auteur: une harmonisation communatuaire en marche accélérée
Revue de droit commercial belge
2012, 599 ff..
(135) The Newspaper Licensing Agency Ltd and Others v Meltwater Holding Bv and
Others CA [2011] EWCA Civ 890, [2012] RPC 1, [2012] Bus LR 53).
Football Dataco
, cit., paras. 40 and 53.
Football Dataco
, cit., para. 41.
Football Dataco
, cit., para. 42.
(139) JIIP and Technopolis Group,
Final report,
cit., vi.
Football Dataco
, cit., para 39.
(141) As noted by the Advocate General in
, cit., at para. 121, only human crea-
tions are protected, though these “can also include those for which the person employs a tech-
nical aid, such as a camera” (ibid.). However, in AI databases (and works more generally), AI
is not a mere technical aid: it is the creator and/or maker itself. Conversely, if an automating
technology is a mere technical aid, one could apply the regime of computer-generated works
or, in its absence, extend the case law on photograph’s originality.
Intellectual Property
Law, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 2018, 118, who refer this assertion to all computer-generated
works, that could however be protected by related rights or unfair competition law.
AIDA 2018
Indeed, in narrow AI scenarios, the AI is unlikely to take free choices, because the
latter will in principle be entirely dictated by technical contraints. Conversely, data-
bases created by strong AI are unlikely to be original, and hence protected, because
the choice in the selection or arrangement of the contents may be free, but not crea-
tive, since the concept of creativity appears closely related to the involvement of a
human author. The conclusion would be different in two scenarios. First, if AI de-
veloped to a point that we would grant legal personality and our resistance in ac-
cepting machine creativity would decrease. The Database Directive itself, at a closer
look, allows Member States to recognise legal persons as owners of a database, and
the argument may be put forward that this would apply to AI should its personality
be recognised (143). Granting legal personality to AI, however, would not in itself
unravel the originality conundrum. Second, if Brexit led to a return to the ‘skill, la-
bour, or judgement’ standard – a return that “is both a challenge, and a customiza-
tion opportunity” (144) – this would render British copyright law more AI-friendly
and AI databases may be more easily protected by means of copyright. It should be
noted, however, that this may made difficult by the fact that the European standard
of originality has made its way into the British statutory provision on databases
(145). Therefore, a reversing case law could affect the general copyright concept of
originality, but not the one applied to databases, for which there would be the need
for a legislative reform. It should incidentally be noted, finally, that the fact that AI
databases are in principle not covered by copyright is not likely to have significant
practical consequences, since copyright does not cover most traditional databases
and in light of its limited usefulness, in that it does not protect against independent
creations (146).
If, contrary to this paper’s position, the option in favour of a copyright protec-
tion for AI databases should prevail, then the main ownership alternatives will be
between the AI’s owner, the developer, the end-user, or some form of join-
ownership (147). The AI’s owner may be recognised as the database’s rightholder if
the regime of employees’ works were applied, but said regime is designed for hu-
man employees. The developer is likely to have some rights on the code or the pro-
gram more generally, but not on the final database. The end-user may have some
rights, but only in the event they will contribute in a meaningful way in the selection
or arrangement of the contents thus stamping their personal touch on the database.
This excludes all unsupervised systems and arguably the labelling itself will not be
sufficient to make out the originality requirement because the relevant process is
dictated by technical constraints and is not expression of free and creative choices.
Joint ownership, finally, would be a solution leading to uncertainty and not many
foreseeable benefits. In light of the difficulties in the allocation of ownership and
control, one may expect contracts playing a crucial role. For example, Amazon re-
(143) Database Directive, Article 4.
op. cit.
, 670.
(145) Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 3A(2). This is the only reference
to the author’s own intellectual creation in the whole Act.
(146) ZOPPINI,
Commento alla Direttiva 96/9 dell’11 marzo 1996 sulla tutela giuridica
delle banche dati
, in
Dir. inf
. 1996, 490, 491.
op. loc. cit.
tains ownership “[a]ll content included in or made available through any Amazon
Service” (148), including inter alia data compilations and audio clips. In particular,
these contents are protected “by Luxembourg and international copyright, authors’
rights and database right laws” (149). In addition, said laws cover also the “compi-
lation of all content included in or made available through any Amazon Service”
(150); these are “the exclusive property of Amazon” (151). The scope of this con-
tractual provision is unclear, because the interactions between the end user and
Alexa may qualify as data collections and audio clips, but also as user generated
content, which is owned by the user and licensed to Amazon (152). Overall, the al-
location of ownership would be one of the aspects that would need specific atten-
tion in the context of a reform allowing copyright protection for AI databases and
works more generally.
Finally, the option in favour of a stronger protection for AI works may gain
support only if one day AI would be granted legal personality either as a conse-
quence of achieved conscience, or if the EU will proceed with its plans for an elec-
tronic personality (153). Whilst the public domain option seems to be preferred in
the literature, it may be worth it to explore whether the sui generis right would ena-
ble AI owners to extract value from AI works, while avoiding the drawbacks of a
strong propertisation by copyright or contractual means.
5. The sui generis right is the main news in the Database Directive (154) and it
has been emphatically labelled a legal monstrosity (155). It has been criticised for
its anticompetitive effect, because originality and the idea-expression dichotomy do
not limit the relevant monopoly and indeed the sui generis right “creates a monopo-
ly in collections of facts and other non-copyrightable items that is difficult or some-
times even impossible to ‘invent around’” (156). Moreover, it has been argued that
(148) Amazon Conditions of Use & Sale, last updated on 24 May 2018, clause 3.
(149) Ibid.
(150) Ibid.
(151) Amazon Conditions of Use & Sale, clause 8.
(152) Ibid.
(153) On this proposal, see NOTO LA DIEGA,
The European strategy on robotics and ar-
tificial intelligence: Too much ethics, too little security
, in
European Cybersecurity Journal
2017, II, 6 ff.. It has been argued that, should AI be granted legal personality, the rights and
obligations of AI systems would be different to those of other subjects and they “could only
have rights and obligations that are strictly defined by legislators” (CERKA, GRIGIENE, and
Is it possible to grant legal personality to artificial intelligence software systems?
, in
Computer Law & Security Review
2017, V, 685).
(154) Databases were arguably protected by copyright even before the Database Di-
rective. See, for instance, DERCLAYE,
The Legal Protection
, cit., 45 and BENDER,
, 2, 4, Bender, New York, 1978, 10.
(155) Reichman,
Legal Hybrids
between the patent and copyright paradigms
L. Rev.
1994, 2432, 2496, quoted in GHIDINI,
cit., 242.
Abuse of Database Right Sole-source information banks under the
EU Database Directive
, in LÉVÊQUE and SHELANSKI (eds),
Antitrust, patents and copyright:
EU and US perspectives
, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2005, 203. Cf., more generally and re-
Informazione e Big data tra innovazione e concorrenza
Giuffrè, 2018.
AIDA 2018
the sui generis right contradicts the principle that “does not allow exclusive rights
on ‘presentation of information’” (157). The discomfort of part the literature may
be explained by the fact that, unlike copyright, the sui generis right does no reward
intellectual labour: here the right is a reward/incentive for those who make substan-
tial investments in obtaining, verifying, or presenting the contents of the database
(158). These critiques may be the basis for the 2004 rulings of the Court of Justice
(159) that interpreted the scope of the Database Directive in an overly narrow way
by stating that only the investment regarding the obtaining, verification, or presen-
tation of existing independent materials count towards the sui generis protection;
conversely, the resources used to create data are not covered. This, and not the law
as stated in the Directive, constitute the main reason why the Database Directive
may be unfit for AI databases. Such narrow interpretation explains why some ex-
perts (160), in view of the review of the Directive, have pointed out that it is not
clear if the current definition of a database embraces AI and algorithm-generated
data, and “whether they should benefit from protection under the sui generis right”
(157) GHIDINI,
, cit., 242, referring to the European Patent Convention, Arti-
cle 52(2)(d). However, the counterargument could be put forward that said provision regards
exclusively patents and is not expression of a general principle. For example, it has been ar-
gued that the exclusion can be explained by saying that the presentation of information is seen
as too abstract and intellectual in nature to be patentable (BENTLY, SHERMAN, GANGJEE, and
Intellectual Property Law,
Oxford, 2018, 474). This is a rule that applies to patents
and arguably trade secrets (
Bailey & Williams v Levi Roots
[2011] EWHC 3098), but certainly
not to other fields of intellectual property, such as copyright, where the presentation of infor-
mation, though abstract and intellectual in nature, can be protected as literary work and dra-
matic work, should the relevant expression be original.
(158) Database Directive, Article 7(1). Even though the reference to ‘sui generis’ may
suggest that this right is a right of a new kind, entirely different to copyright, this intuition
would be inaccurate. Indeed, this right is not actually sui generis, if one takes into account that
copyright itself has been genetically modified over the years, becoming an all-encompassing
versatile and socioeconomically neutral form of protection that is available when the produc-
tion of a good may be disincentived by the ease of copy made possible by new technologies and
by free competition. This thesis was first formulated by SPADA,
op. cit.
, 17. Cf., more recently,
Something Completely Different: Europe’s Sui Generis Database Right
, in
The Internet and the Emerging Importance of New Forms of In-
tellectual Property,
Wolters Kluwer, Alphen aan den Rijn, 2016, 205.
(159) Court of Justice 9 November 2004,
British Horseracing Board v William Hill Or-
, case C-203/02, in ECR, 2004, I, 10415; Court of Justice 9 November 2004,
tures Marketing v Svenska Spel
, case C-338/02, in ECR, 2004, I, 10497;
Fixtures Marketing
, cit.; Court of Justice 9 November 2004,
Fixtures Marketing v Oy Veikkaus Ab
, case
C-46/02, in ECR, 2004, I, 10365. On these rulings see RAGONESI,
Nota alle sentenze della
Corte di Giustizia sulle banche dati
, in this
2005, 575 ff., DERCLAYE,
The Court of
Justice Interprets the Database sui generis Right for the First Time
, in
European Law Review
2005, 420; MANAVELLO,
Prima decisione della Corte di Giustizia sulla protezione delle banche
di dati
, in
Dir. Ind.
2005, IV, 420; BERTANI,
Banche dati ed appropriazione delle informazio-
, in
Europa e diritto privato
2006, 319; MASSON,
Creation of Database or Creation of Data:
Crucial Choices in the Matter of Database Protection
, in
2006, 261; APLIN,
op. cit.,
Study in support of the evaluation of Directive
96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases – Final report, European Commission, Brussels
2018, v.
(161). For the same reason, the stakeholders (162) lament that the Database Di-
rective is outdated, because it does not take into account a number of technological
developments, including “industry aggregation of data and big data; automatic data
generation; and advanced computational methods for analysis, information and de-
cision making” (163). Now, if the sui generis right is fit for AI databases, said right
could play an unprecedentedly important role as the chief way to protect AI works,
which cannot currently be copyrighted for lack of originality. Conversely, if AI da-
tabases fall outside the scope of the Database Directive, there is the risk of overpro-
tection resulting from the combined effect of contracts and TPMs, which would not
be limited by the exceptions laid out by the directive (164).
Before analysing the main hurdles to the sui generis protection of AI databases,
let us briefly see what are the main features of this right. The rightholder (165) has
the power to prevent extraction or re-utilisation of the whole or a substantial part of
the contents of the database, to be evaluated quantitatively or qualitatively (166). In
section 6 below, it will be assessed whether AI-enabled data mining can constitute
unlawful extraction or re-utilisation of a substantial part of a database or if it can
fall under one of the exceptions to copyright and sui generis right. Indeed, the law-
ful user can carry out the unsubstantial extraction and re-utilisation of the contents,
and they can extract or re-utilise the substantial part thereof for private purposes
(only if it is a non-electronic database), teaching, scientific research, and public se-
curity. The duration of protection is quite peculiar, because even if in theory the sui
generis right expires in 15 years (167), practically it is easy to transform it into a
perennial right by changing the contents substantially, even if the change results
from the accumulation of successive additions, deletions or alterations (168). Now,
given that AI may render the change in a database’s contents easier, it may be ar-
gued that AI could easily trigger this provision, thus potentially giving rise to a per-
petual protection of the database, covering also those contents which have not been
changed (169). Should the sui generis be revitalised, as argued in this paper, the
(161) Ibidem.
(162) ‘Stakeholders’ here refers to the for-profit database makers, SMEs, startups, and
the research community that gave evidence in the context of JIIP and TECHNOPOLIS GROUP,
Final report,
(163) Ivi, iv.
(164) Ryanair, cit., 83. See BORGHI and KARAPAPA,
Contractual Restrictions on Lawful
Use of Information: Sole-source Databases Protected by the Back Door?
, in
2015, VIII,
505, and CIANI,
Property rights model v Contractual approach: How protecting non-personal
data in cyberspace?
, in
Dir. Com. Internaz
. 2017, IV, 831.
(165) In Innoweb, cit., para.36, the reference is expressly to “the person who has taken
the initiative and assumed the risk of making a substantial investment” (emphasis added). The
case refers also to
e British Horseracing
, cit., paras. 32 and 46;
Fixtures Marketing
, cit., para.
35; and
Directmedia Publishing
, cit., para. 33.
(166) Database Directive, Article 7(1).
(167) Database Directive, Article 10(1)-(2) for
dies a quo
and regime.
(168) Database Directive, Article 10(3). See the Opinion of Advocate General Stix-Hackl
delivered on 8 June 2004, paras. 139-155, in
British Horseracing,
in ECR 2004, I,
op. loc. cit.
are critical on the aspect of this perpetual pro-
tection that covers also old contents.
AIDA 2018
matter of the potentially eternal duration of the right should be addressed by the
Court of Justice. Finally, the sui generis right applies only to EU databases (170),
but agreements can be concluded by the Council upon proposal from the Commis-
sion (171). Such agreements may be necessary to protect British databases in the
EU because of Brexit. The Database Directive has been transposed into UK law and
in June 2018 the European Union (Withdrawal) Act has expressly saved all EU-
derived legislation (172). However, much will depend on whether, at the end of the
EU-UK negotiations, will be considered a third country or not (173).
From this paper’s perspective, the main question is whether a substantial in-
vestment in AI can be seen as a qualifying investment in the obtaining, verifying, or
presenting the contents of a database. The answer requires a closer look to the four
cases decided by the Court of Justice at the end of 2004 (174). It will be shown that
the decision is open to criticism and that the interpretation which scholars and the
Commission give to the rulings, in the form of the spin-off theory, is inaccurate.
In British Horseracing, the dispute was over the use by William Hill of infor-
mation taken from the claimant’s database, for the purpose of organising betting on
horse racing. The database at hand contained a large amount of information sup-
plied by horse owners and other stakeholders of the racing industry (175). Part of
the contents are the lists of horses running in the races, which are compiled thanks
to a manned call centre; among other things, the operators must ascertain whether
the horse can be authorised to run the race (176). The arrangement is partly auto-
mated, because there is a computer that allocates a saddle cloth number to each
horse and determines the stall from which it will start (177). In terms of investment,
it costed around £4 million a year to run this database (178). William Hill was a
lawful user of the databases and rearranged a small part of its contents (179). The
claimant, however, believed that even if the individual extracts might have been seen
as non-substantial, the activity still infringed on their sui generis right because it
(170) By EU databases we mean databases whose makers or rightholders are nationals of
a Member State, have their habitual residence in the EU, or if a company has the registered of-
fice, central administration or principal place of business in the EU, or, if only the registered
office, also the genuine ongoing link to the economy of a Member State. See Database Di-
rective, Article 11(1)-(2).
(171) Database Directive, Article 11(3).
(172) European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, Section 2. On Brexit and intellectual
property much has been said, but no or little attention has been given to the protection of da-
tabases. See, e.g., TRAUB and DENNIS,
Brexit - What Could Happen to My IP Rights?
, in
tellectual Property & Technology Law Journal
2017, XI, 20, FARRAND,
Bold and newly Inde-
pendent, or Isolated and Cast Adrift? The Implications of Brexit for Intellectual Property Law
and Policy
, in
Journal of Common Market Studies
, 2017, VI, 1306; RAMALHO and GOMEZ
op. cit.
, 669.
op. cit.
, 670.
British Horseracing v William Hill
, cit.;
Fixtures Marketing v Oy Veikkaus
, cit.;
Fixtures Marketing v Svenska Spel
, cit.;
Fixtures Marketing v OPAP
, cit..
British Horseracing v William Hill
, cit., para. 10.
(176) Ivi, para. 14.
(177) Ibid.
(178) Ivi, para. 15.
(179) Ivi, paras. 17 and 19.
would at least qualify as repeated and systematic extraction and/or re-utilization of
insubstantial parts of the contents in conflict with the normal exploitation of the da-
tabase (180). From an AI perspective, the main question at the centre of this pre-
liminary ruling is what ‘investment in obtaining’ data means.
As to the ‘obtaining’ the data, the main passage of the court’s reasoning re-
volves around the purpose of the sui generis right as one could infer from some,
perhaps overemphasised, recitals of the Database Directive (181). In particular, the
purpose of the protection by the sui generis right – actually one of the purposes – is
to “promote the establishment of storage and processing systems for existing infor-
mation and not the creation of materials capable of being collected subsequently in
a database” (182). What is presented as an inescapable conclusion, then, is that ‘in-
vestment in obtaining must be understood as referring tothe resources used to
seek out existing independent materials and collect them in the database, and not to
the resources used for the creation as such of independent materials” (183). If one
dissects the recitals upon which the court based its decision, they could be used to
argue opposite interpretations of the scope of the directive. First, databases are a vi-
tal tool in the development of the information market (184). This is true, but reduc-
ing the scope of the directive is unlikely to facilitate the growth of said market. Sec-
ond, interestingly, the directive refers to the exponential growth in the amount of
“information generated and processed” (185) and accordingly calls for significant
investments in advanced information processing systems. The express reference to
information that is ‘generated’ may be seen as encompassing both created and ob-
tained data. Third, it is pointed out that these investments in information storage
and processing systems need “a stable and uniform legal protection for databases”
(186). It could be argued that sterilising the directive has not led to a stable protec-
tion for databases, nor stimulated the relevant industry. The only argument that
might have had some merit was the one based on the recital (187) which excludes
the compilation of several recordings of musical performances on a CD from the
scope of the sui generis right inter alia because it does not represent a substantial
enough investment. Whilst this might be interpreted as excluding created data, it
could be also seen as meaning that (financially) trivial operations such as collections
of recordings are in principle insufficient investments. It does not seem, anyway,
that such a passage could justify a case law that effectively sterilises the Database
(180) Ivi, para. 20 and Database Directive, Articles 7(1) and 7(5).
(181) Database Directive, recitals 9, 10, 12, 19, and 49.
British Horseracing v William Hill
, cit., para. 31 (see also para. 30).
(183) Ivi, para. 31. The same goes for the concept of verification; indeed, according to
the court, in the context of the assessment of the investment, the judge cannot take into ac-
count “[t]he resources used for verification during the stage of creation of data or other mate-
rials which are subsequently collected in a database” (ivi, para. 34). The same ratio decidendi
can be found in the
Fixtures Marketing
cases at paras. 39 (
Svenska Spel
), 39-40 (
), and
paras 33-34, 41-42, 44-46, 49 (
Oy Veikkaus
(184) Database Directive, recital 9.
(185) Database Directive, recital 10.
(186) Database Directive, recital 12.
(187) Database Directive, recital 19.
AIDA 2018
Directive. Indeed, even though the vague wording of the directive allows for such
interpretation, it cannot be said that it supports it (188). Alongside the misplaced
emphasis on some recitals, there are some strong arguments against the conclusions
of the Court of Justice in the 2004 rulings. First, one needs to keep in mind that
one of the main goals of the directive was to stimulate investments thus bridging the
gap between the EU and the US databases industries. This fact must be analysed in
light of the empirical evidence clearly showing the majority of the investments made
by the database owners regards data collection, rather than the setting up of the da-
tabase itself (189). Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is difficult to draw a
line between the concepts of creation and obtaining; this is confirmed by the fact
that live football data are deemed to be ‘obtained’ in the UK (190), and ‘created’ in
Germany (191). Even in the literature, there is no consensus on where to draw the
line (192). Data mining itself is a good example of the untenability of dichotomy
because mining leads to the discovery of correlations between existing data (193)
and one could argue both ways, that this is creation of data or, as seems more rea-
sonable, data obtaining. The untenability of the dichotomy creation/obtaining indi-
rectly (194) recognised by the European Commission, when they observe that “in
the context of automated data collection […] it becomes increasingly difficult to
distinguish between data creation and obtaining of data when there is systematic
categorisation of data already by the data-collecting object” (195). Building a ratio
decidendi on such weak foundations is not consistent with the principle of legal cer-
tainty and it does not reflect the versatility of AI (196), whose process of making a
database cannot be compartmentalised in phases such as creating and obtaining the
contents. The criticised dichotomy has profound consequences on the practical rel-
evance of the Database Directive and on the users’ rights. Indeed, on the basis of
the joint operation of the 2004 rulings restricting the scope of the directive and
Ryanair (197) stating that there are no limits to the contractual autonomy when a
database falls outside the scope of the directive, the directive has not been able to
limit the propertisation of data by contractual means, as will be further explained in
section 7 below.
The sterilising effect of this case law has been worsened by the fact that the
2004 rulings have been read as if they introduced a spin-off theory, i.e. as if there
(188) Cf. Opinion of Advocate General Stix-Hackl delivered on 8 June 2004, British
Horseracing v William Hill, case C-203/02, in ECR, 2005, I, 10515, paras. 41-46.
(189) Commission,
cit., 36.
Football Dataco Ltd v Stan James Ltd
(No 2) [2013] EWCA Civ 27.
(191) Commission,
cit., 25.
(192) See, for instance, the different proposals of DERCLAYE,
Databases Sui Generis
Right: Should We Adopt the Spin-Off Theory?
, in
2004, 402, and OTTOLIA,
op. cit.
79. (193) Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 2(2).
(194) ‘Indirectly’ because the reference is to sensor-equipped, connected ‘Internet of
Things’ objects, but the same applies to most AI scenarios.
(195) Commission,
, cit., 15.
(196) In terms, NAZEMI and PEDRAM,
Deploying Customized Data Representation and
Approximate Computing
Machine Learning Applications
, in arXiv, 3 June 2018.
, cit., 386.
was no protection for the databases that constitute only a collateral activity of the
company (198). It is this paper’s contention (199) that the spin-off theory should
not be interpreted as meaning that if making databases is not the main activity, then
the Database Directive will not apply (200). This broad interpretation goes beyond
what actually decided by the court and it affects negatively AI databases because it
leads to the popular belief that “machine-generated databases […] may largely be
considered ‘spin-off’ databases” (201). In fact, the court clarified that the creation
of a database can be “linked to the exercise of a principal activity in which the per-
son creating the database is also the creator of the materials contained in the data-
base” (202). One needs only to establish that (also) the obtaining, verification or
presentation “required substantial investment […] independent of the resources
used to create those materials” (203). Even if, regrettably, this theory is predicated
on the untenable creating/obtaining dichotomy, its narrow interpretation as pro-
posed here leaves scope for a sui generis protection of AI databases. Thus, for in-
stance, if one invested in two different AI applications, one for data mining, and the
other for database making (obtaining, verifying, presenting data), the relevant AI
database may be protected if the second investment is substantial, regardless of the
database making activity being a primary or secondary activity (204).
AI can render big data held by companies usable by processing, structuring and
optimising said data. It has been suggested (205) that since the 2004 rulings did
not regard the verification and presentation of data, there would be some scope to
recognise a sui generis right on AI databases, should the substantial investment
concern such activities (206). This might ultimately “influence the legal regulation
(198) Commission,
, cit., 15, are arguably inaccurate when they state that “da-
tabases which are the by-products of the main activities of an economic undertaking (‘spin-off’
databases) are in principle not protected by the
sui generis
right, as they would not fulfil the
‘substantial investment’ threshold” (similarly ivi, 24). See also HUGENHOLTZ,
who sees the spin-off theory as a way to avoid the monopolisation of sole-source databases.
However, the A. points out that this case law, even interpreted broadly, is not enough to coun-
ter the monopolisation effects of the sole-source databases not falling under the spin-off theo-
ry. (199) See also OTTOLIA,
op. cit.
, 76, according to whom the 2004 rulings do not intro-
duce a rigid dichotomy between companies that produce data and companies that arrange
them; the fact that a database falls or not within the scope of the directive does not, indeed,
depend on an abstract and general notion of data production.
(200) A more refined version of this interpretation can be found in HUGENHOLTZ,
(201) Commission,
, cit., 35.
(202) British Horseracing, cit., para. 35.
(203) Ibid.
(204) Cf. DERCLAYE,
Databases Sui Generis Right
, cit., 402, in particular where the A.
points out that “if the spin-off theory, as it seems to, refers to a broader meaning that any da-
tabase which is a spin-off of another activity should not obtain protection, it goes too far”.
(205) Commission,
, cit., 25.
(206) On AI for verification purposes see, e.g., AMRANI, LÚCIO, BIBAL,
$\heartsuit $? A Survey on the Application of Machine Learning to Formal Verification
, in
arXiv 10 June 2018. As to AI for presentation purposes see inter alia SOTO, KIROS, KESELJ,
Machine learning meets visualization for extracting insights from text data
, in
AI Mat-
2016, II, 15 ff..
AIDA 2018
of the emerging data-driven business models building on ‘big data’ analytics of ma-
chine-generated, Internet of Things data” (207).
When it comes to understanding when an investment is substantial, the Court
of Justice did not elaborate much, limiting itself to observe that the person who has
taken the initiative and assumed the risk of making a substantial investment in terms
of human, technical and/or financial resources in the setting up and operation of a
database receives a return on his investment by protecting him against the unau-
thorised appropriation of the results of that investment” (208). The substantiality
can be qualitative or quantitative, with the quantitative assessment referring “to
quantifiable resources and the qualitative assessment to efforts which cannot be
quantified, such as intellectual effort or energy” (209). In light of such a limited
guidance, one needs to look at the national approaches. National rulings do not
usually elaborate on the concept of substantiality of the investment. This has been
explained in light of the fact that “in most cases, the investment is so enormous that
there is no discussion as to whether the required level of substantiality is attained”
(210). Who studied the matter more closely reached the following conclusions
(211). First, ‘investment’ ought to be defined broadly, as including an effort in time,
energy or money. Second, the threshold of substantiality should be set at a low level
(212). This has been confirmed recently in the commissioned study in support of
the evaluation of the Database Directive, where it has been pointed out that “na-
tional courts have been generous and granted protection for relatively low-level in-
vestments” (213). This conclusion has been upheld by the Commission that clari-
fied that “[a]s a general rule, investment needs to be more than minimal, which
(207) Ibid.
cit., para. 39, italics added, referring to
British Horseracing Board
, cit.,
paras. 32 and 46;
Fixtures Marketing
, cit., para. 35; and Court of Justice 9 October 2008,
Directmedia Publishing
, case C-304/07, para. 33, in ECR, 2008, I, 7565 and in this
2009, 374 ff., with a comment by COGO. See also AREZZO,
L’estrazione non autorizzata del
contenuto di una banca dati,
Dir. ind.
2009, 192, and SAMMARCO,
Sull’ampiezza del diritto
sui generis in relazione all’attività di estrazione del contenuto di una banca di dati non avente
carattere creativo
, in
Dir. inf.
2008, 780.
(209) Paragraphs 28 (Svenska Spel), 43 (OPAP), 38 (Veikkaus), referring to the Data-
base Directive, recitals 7, 39, and 40th. For brevity reasons, this paper will not expand on the
concepts of qualitative and quantitative substantiality of the investment, on which one can refer
The legal protection
, cit., 91 ff..
Databases Sui Generis Right: What is a Substantial Investment? A
Tentative Definition
, in
2005, 2 ff..
(211) Ivi, 4.
(212) For instance, in France, see
Cour de Cassation
23 March 2010, in
273 and, in Italy, Court of Rome 10 December 2009 as cited by Commission,
, cit,
27. Only in some instances, national courts have denied protection for lack of substantiality in
the investment. See, e.g., in France, Cour de Cassation 19 June 2013, 12-18.623,
Réseau fleu-
ri v L’Agitateur floral
, as cited in JIIP and TECHNOPOLIS GROUP,
Final report
, cit., 7 and Trib.
com. Paris 16 February 2001,
AMC Promotion v CD Publishers Construct Data Verlag
, referred to by CARON,
Liberté d’expression et liberté de la presse contre droit de pro-
priété intellectuelle
, in
Communication Commerce Electronique
2002, II, 25.
op. ult. cit.
, 8.
points towards a relatively low threshold” (214). It seems clear, therefore, that it is
not the substantiality to bring AI databases out of the scope of the Database Di-
rective, being the creating/obtaining dichotomy the actual problem. Accordingly,
the proposal put forward by some database makers (215) to require merely a (non-
substantial) investment would not, unlike what believed by the Commission “to
widen the scope of protection, and thus potentially bringing the sui generis right
fully into the domain of big data” (216).
The generous approach to substantiality and broad construction of investment
must be kept in mind when asking oneself whether AI databases meet the relevant
requirement. If the AI application is designed ad-hoc to create a certain database,
than the investment in AI will be in principle sufficient to qualify for sui generis pro-
tection. The matter is more complex should the AI be able to create databases seri-
ally. In that event, one could argue that the requirement of the substantial invest-
ment would be met only for the first database, if the creation of the subsequent da-
tabases does not require an autonomous human, technical, or financial effort. For
the first database it would be immaterial if there is human involvement because the
investment might be substantial in reason of the financial cost of the AI application.
Therefore, even databases whose creation were fully automated may be covered by
the sui generis right (217). Conversely, if the AI application requires human inter-
vention every time it makes a database (e.g. labelling in the event of supervised
learning) or other efforts, one could argue that also the subsequent AI databases
may be covered by the sui generis right.
In 2017 and 2018, the European Commission collected evidence (218) to de-
cide whether or not to reform the Database Directive and it seems clear that the
main concern was that the sui generis right did not fit automatically-collected or
machine-generated data and the Internet of Things. In the public consultation, 42%
of the respondents believed that the sui generis right was not appropriate for said
data, that they claimed should be protected, though they did not explain why (219).
The conviction that machine-generated databases are not covered by the sui generis
is prevalent in the literature (220). This is countered by the opposite indication
coming from the workshop organised in the context of the commission study in
(214) Commission,
, cit., 27.
(215) Ivi, 28.
(216) Ibid.
(217) This opinion does not seem shared by Commission,
, cit., 36, where it is
submitted that if the data “not only requires automatic processing and formatting, but also
manual processing and quality checks…there is case-law where relatively small investments
sui generis
protection”. This interpretation is based on the criticised misconstruction
of the spin-off theory, and of the creating-obtaining dichotomy.
(218) These included a public consultation, stakeholder meetings, a contracted study,
which included an online survey, in-depth interviews, and a workshop (JIIP and TECHNOPO-
, Final report
, cit.).
(219) Synopsis report on the responses to the public consultation activities on the evalua-
tion of Directive 96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases, para. 1.2.5.
(220) LEISTNER, ‘Big Data and the EU Database Directive 96/9/EC: Current Law and
Potential for Reform’ in LOHSSE, SCHULZE, and STAUDENMAYER (eds),
Trading Data in the
Digital Economy: Legal Concepts and Tools,
Nomos, Baden-Baden, 2017, 25.
AIDA 2018
support of the evaluation of the Database Directive; indeed most “participants
thought it unclear whether the sui generis right applied to machine-generated data”
(221). More in favour of the fitness of the sui generis right for machine data a mi-
nority of the scholars (222) and the Bundesgerichtshof in Autobahnmaut (223). In
that case, machine-generated toll data were held to be protected by the sui generis
right because the highway company had invested substantial financial resources in
the recording of pre-existing data on cars using the highway, as well as in the verifi-
cation and presentation of the data by means of a computer program. This is of
great importance for AI databases, not only because it shows the untenability of the
creating-obtaining dichotomy, but also because an investment in some software en-
abling verification and presentation of the contents could be enough for the sui gen-
eris protection of AI databases.
Despite the mixed signals, the Commission’s contractors concluded that “the
Database Directive does not apply to the databases generated with […] artificial in-
telligence). In fact, the generation of these databases is closely interlinked with the
creation of their content” (224). Even if one could accept this statement, there are
at least two caveats. First, this preclusion does not stem from the Directive, but
from the narrow way the Court of Justice interpreted it in order to limit perceived
monopolisation risks. And indeed the Commission pointed out that “[t]he interpre-
tation of the scope in the 2004 CJEU rulings […] rules out concerns about the sui
generis right playing an anti-competitive role” (225). Such interpretation is based
on an excessive emphasis on some recitals of the directive, and on an untenable di-
chotomy between creating and obtaining data. Should it become clear that, as op-
posed to being a threat to free access to knowledge, the Database Directive can play
a positive role by preventing contractual abuses, then one could expect a reversing
case law that clarify the applicability of the sui generis right to AI databases. The so-
lution would not be to abolish the sui generis right, as requested by those who ob-
served that it did not stimulate investments (226), but to broaden it (227). Second,
AI databases are not only those where the AI creates data; they include also those
databases where the AI obtains, verifies, or presents the contents thereof. For the
latter, the sui generis right, even in the narrow interpretation given by the Court of
Justice, does apply to (some) AI databases. For instance, it may be argued that Am-
azon Echo’s information is a database despite this is not the main activity carried
Final report,
cit., 25.
(222) Ivi, 28 criticises this interpretation of the EU case law and in particular of the
ish Horseracing
, cit.,
Fixtures Marketing
, cit..
, BGH I ZR 47/08 (25 March 2010).
(224) Ivi, ii. The same Authors, however, reformulate this position in a softer way by as-
serting that “[t]he Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, algorithm- and sensor-generated
data, Big Data are all gaining increasing economic importance. It is nevertheless unclear […]
whether the current definition of a database embraces them, and, even more importantly,
whether they should benefit from protection under the sui generis right” (ivi, 5).
(225) Ivi, 21, where such effect is also linked to the “prevalence of contracts” (ibid.).
This rather obscure reference should not be interpreted as meaning that the prevalence of con-
tracts in the database industry does not have anti-competitive effects.
(226) Ibid.
(227) This opinion is not isolate, see e.g. ivi, iii.
out by Amazon, if one can show that there has been a substantial investment in ob-
taining, verifying, and presenting the data. The information on the human contribu-
tion to this database and of other potential efforts is not in the public domain, there-
fore one cannot conclude in one sense or the other. However, even in the event of
little or no human involvement, the substantiality threshold might still be met show-
ing the financial cost of the development of the AI technology.
As said before, contrary to this paper’s position, the dominant view would seem
that the sui generis right is unlikely to cover AI databases and big machine data. To
remedy this situation, the Commission proposed to introduce a data producer’s
right for non-personal or anonymised data (228). A data producer’s right, which
can be placed in the context of the debate on data property (229), would be “[a]
right to use and authorise the use of non-personal data” (230) granted to the data
producer, that is “the owner or long-term user (i.e. the lessee) of the device” (231).
Thus, users would “utilise their data and thereby contribute to unlocking machine-
generated data” (232).
The proposal’s underpinnings might seem prima facie unobjectionable. Indeed,
according to the Commission, since the sui generis right has a limited application in
the context of Big Machine Data, and since the latter is fundamental in the data
economy, it would follow that we need to introduce said new right. However, this
double assumption is unproven and, conversely, this paper contributes to bring evi-
dence that it is simply incorrect. Indeed, the sui generis right can cover AI databases
and in data falling outside the directive can efficiently, if not overly, protected by
means of contracts, TPMs, trade secrets, and unfair competition laws (233). In a
context of such strong protection, it does not seem that there be need for further
incentives in the form of new rights. Moreover, the access to such a form of protec-
tion may discourage the recourse to the sui generis right thus contributing to the
sterilisation of the Database Directive (234). Overall, it can be said that the data
producer’s right would be the wrong solution to a made-up problem.
Saving the sui generis right, thus, would bring a threefold benefit. First and
foremost, it would provide some form of protection to the AI works comprised in
the database, AI works that would otherwise be in the public domain for lack of
(228) See Commission,
Free Flow of Data
, cit.
(229) See HOEREN,
Big data and the Ownership in Data: Recent Developments in Eu-
, in
2014, XII, 751 ff.; ZECH,
A legal framework for a data economy in the Europe-
an Digital Single Market: rights to use data
, in
2016, VI, 460 ff.; BURNS,
machine data: less is more for global growth
, in
WIPO Magazine
2017, VI; STALLA-
Building the European data economy. Position paper on the proposal for
a new right in non-personal data
, available at news-
6F27AD94A35F71EC_46162.pdf; HUGENHOLTZ, Against data Property: Unwelcome Guest
in the House of IP, in ULRICH, DRAHOS, and GHIDINI,
Kritika. Essays on Intellectual Proper-
, 3, Elgar, Cheltenham, 2018, 48; DREXL,
op. loc. cit
(230) Commission,
Free Flow of Data
, cit., 13.
(231) Ibid.
(232) Ibid.
(233) DREXL,
op. loc. ult. cit..
(234) BURNS,
op. loc. cit.
AIDA 2018
originality. This would allow the extraction of value from the AI works, whilst pre-
venting their monopolisation. Second, a revamped sui generis right would prevent
undue data propertisations by contractual means by reducing the negative effects of
the Ryanair case and its enshrining of an unlimited contractual autonomy. Finally,
by providing some form of protection to data, it would significantly weaken the case
for a new data producer’s right, which would no longer necessary for the European
data economy.
6. When there is an investment in AI that is clearly used to obtain, verify, and
present the contents of a database, the sui generis right is likely to apply. The main
problem, as we have seen, is in the definition of ‘obtaining’, given that judge made
creation obtaining dichotomy. A very good example of the untenability of the di-
chotomy is data mining. Data mining, whose growth is closely related to develop-
ments in AI technologies, identifies correlations between existing data (235), there-
fore while prima facie it may be seen as ‘creating’ data, arguably it ‘obtains’ them.
The fact that one could argue both ways confirms that the dichotomy should be
The importance of data mining has been recognised by the European Commis-
sion, that has accordingly provided an ad-hoc exception in the proposed EU reform
of copyright. However, one needs to assess to what extent existing exceptions can
constitute a good legal basis for data mining, in the form of a defence in proceed-
ings for infringement of AI databases. Now, the pair ‘infringement and AI data-
bases’ can be analysed from a twofold perspective. Either as infringement of the AI
database or infringement carried out by the AI in making the database. The first an-
gle will be only briefly analysed because there are no significant differences between
the infringement of an AI database and of a traditional one (236). Conversely, the
second scenario is of the utmost importance from this paper’s perspective because if
data mining is considered infringing per se, this would significantly hinder the po-
tential of AI in impacting the database market.
The infringement of the database copyright is only partly regulated by the Da-
tabase Directive; therefore, the relevant regime should be construed building on the
general principles about copyright infringement, i.e. restricted act (237), causal link
(238), and substantiality (239). Therefore, there is infringement when someone,
without the AI database’s owner’s permission, reproduces, alters, distributes, or
communicates the whole or a substantial part of the database (240), if the new da-
(235) Draft Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market, Article 2(2).
(236) For a more thorough analysis of database infringement see DERCLAYE,
The legal
, cit., 100 ff., and JIIP and TECHNOPOLIS GROUP,
Legal annex,
cit., 27-43, 69-96.
(237) Database Directive, Article 5.
(238) If there is no proof of direct copying, the focus will be on proving access and that
the similarities between the two databases are sufficiently numerous, close, or extensive to
make it likely that the similarity is due to copying and not to coincidence.
Designers Guild v
Russell Williams
[2001] FSR 113. Access should be easy to prove if the database can be used
only by registered users or if some logging system is in place.
, cit..
(240) The exclusive rights of the owner of a database are the usual afforded by EU copy-
tabase was derived from the allegedly infringed one. The only aspect that may de-
serve more attention is substantiality. Indeed, this is a matter of quality rather than
quantity, in the sense that “[t]he reproduction of a part which by itself has no origi-
nality will not normally be a substantial part of the copyright and therefore will not
be protected” (241). Consequently, since originality has a limited scope in the area
of databases, third parties will be allowed to more extensive copying of the contents
– if compared to traditional authorial woks – as long as they do not appropriate the
original expression of the author’s ideas. Lastly, should the said requirements be
made out, the lawful user could still invoke of the defences or exceptions laid out by
the Database Directive (242), in particular if they can prove that the act performed
was necessary to access the contents or is within their normal use, regardless of the
owner’s authorisation (243). These are the only mandatory exception to the data-
base copyright and cannot be waived contractually (244). In addition, Member
States have the discretion to extend the general copyright exceptions, and to intro-
duce exceptions for private copy (but only for non-electronic databases), public se-
curity, teaching or scientific research. The latter exception – which applies also to
the sui generis right – deserves more attention because it could be used by AI data-
bases’ owners who make their databases using data mining targeted at the contents
of third parties’ databases. Such mining will be lawful only if its sole purpose is
non-commercial scientific research and with due acknowledgement of the source
(245). On the latter point, one should keep in mind that “mentioning the authors’
names and/or the sources, which may not always make sense for data analysis”
(246). While this exception is positively less narrow than the one provided in the
Draft Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market, as seen below, the due
acknowledgement, the fact that it can be waived contractually (247), and the fact
that it is not mandatory may significantly reduce its practical relevance (248). In as-
sessing the scope of this exception, moreover, one needs to keep in mind that all ex-
ceptions to the database rights are subjected to the so-called three step test and
cannot, therefore, unreasonably prejudge the AI database’s owner’s legitimate inter-
right law. See Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22
May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the infor-
mation society [2001] OJ L 167/10 (Infosoc Directive), Articles 2-4.
Ladbroke v William Hill
[1964] 1 W.L.R. 273, 293.
(242) Database Directive, Article 6(1).
(243) Database Directive, Article 6(2).
(244) Database Directive, Article 15.
(245) Database Directive, Article 6(2)(b).
Study on the legal
framework of text and data mining (TDM)
, Publications Office, Luxembourg, 2014, 116
(247) On the use of contracts to override copyright exceptions see, recently, ARONSSON-
Submission to Australian Department of Communication and the Arts, Copyright
Modernisation Consultation: Contracting out of Copyright Exceptions
, in
, 3 July 2018,
available at
(248) DUTILH,
op. cit.
, 545, points out that according to some stakeholders “[t]hese ex-
ceptions (education and science) should be mandatory. Because this exception is not mandato-
ry, France, Italy and Ireland have not implemented it”. It must be said that Italy has a research
exception for databases (see Article 64
, para. 1, lett. a, l.a.).
AIDA 2018
est or conflict with the normal exploitation of the database (249). Coming to the
remedies, the Database Directive mandated merely the introduction of remedies,
leaving the Member States free to decide how to regulate them (250). Nearly ten
years later, the Commission (251) clarified that the Enforcement Directive (252)
applied to copyright, all rights related to copyright, and the sui generis rights.
Therefore, the AI database owner will be able to react to the third parties’ infringe-
ment availing themselves of corrective measures (253), injunctions (254), compen-
satory actions (255), or other remedies provided by the applicable national law
While the remedies are the same, the rest of the infringement regime is differ-
ent if we compare copyright and sui generis right. There is infringement of the latter
in the event of unauthorised extraction or re-utilisation of the contents of a data-
base, or of a substantial part thereof, evaluated qualitatively or quantitatively (257).
A defendant extracts if they permanently or temporarily transfer the contents of a
database to another medium by any means or in any form (258). In turn, they will
have re-utilised the contents if they made them available to the public in any form,
with the exclusion of public lending (259). Whereas the consultation of a database
does not constitute in itself infringement, the transfer or making available of the
contents following on-screen consultation does constitute a potential infringing act
(260). From an AI perspective, it is also crucial to keep in mind that extraction and
re-utilisation are construed broadly and encompass fully automated extraction and
re-utilisation (261). ‘Quantitative substantiality’ refers to the volume of data ex-
tracted or re-utilised, “and must be assessed in relation to the volume of the con-
tents of the whole of that database” (262). Evaluating substantiality qualitatively, in
(249) Database Directive, Article 6(3), regards the three-step test applied to the database
copyright, Article 8(2) deals with the homologous provision in the sui generis domain. This
may seem a two-step test, though the reference to the Berne Convention for the protection of
Literary and Artistic Works is likely to mean that the list of exceptions be exhaustive (Berne
Convention, Article 9(2)).
(250) Database Directive, Article 12.
(251) Statement by the Commission concerning Article 2 of Directive 2004/48/EC of the
European Parliament and of the Council on the enforcement of intellectual property rights
(2005/295/EC) [2005] OJ L 94/37.
(252) Directive 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April
2004 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights [2004] OJ L 157/45 (Enforcement
(253) Enforcement Directive, Article 10.
(254) Enforcement Directive, Article 11.
(255) Enforcement Directive, Article 13.
(256) Enforcement Directive, Article 16.
(257) Database Directive, Article 7(1).
(258) Database Directive, Article 7(2)(a).
(259) Database Directive, Article 7(2)(b), which includes distribution of copies, rental,
and on-line or other forms of transmission.
Directmedia Publishing
, cit., paras. 34-36.
, cit., 28, and 33, referring to
British Horseracing
, cit., para. 51, and
Football Dataco
, cit., para. 20.
British Horseracing
, cit., para. 70.
turn, means looking at to the scale of the investment in the obtaining, verification or
presentation, regardless of the volume (263). While these concepts seem broad
enough to catch most infringing acts, it is important to keep in mind that the fact
that the extraction or re-utilisation affects the value of the contents of a database in
immaterial when assessing the infringement of the sui generis right (264). From
this paper’s perspective, it is important to say that, given the general, albeit open to
criticism, trend to negate the sui generis protection for AI databases, one could
foresee that only AI databases where a very meaningful investment has been proven
will be accepted as being covered by said right. Therefore, if compared to traditional
databases, it will be more likely that the infringement will stem for extraction or re-
utilisation of a substantial part of the contents, assessed qualitatively.
The Court of Justice provided some guidance on whether ‘extraction’ also cov-
ered materials derived indirectly from the database, without having direct access to
the database (265). Answering this question is crucial in light of the fact that after
Ryanair it has become clear that contracts, coupled with TPMs, can offer the
strongest form of protection to database owners, with the only exception of protec-
tion against third parties that are not bound by the contract. By the principle of
privity, the use and dissemination of data only indirectly derived from a database is
not unlawful if the latter falls outside the scope of the Database Directive, for in-
stance because the substantial investment has been in the creation of data and not in
their obtaining, verification, or presentation. On this point, the court stated that ‘ex-
traction’ also covered materials that, although derived originally from a protected
database, were derived only indirectly from that database. Indeed, a different solu-
tion would leave “the maker of the database without protection from unauthorised
copying from a copy of the database” (266) and would “prejudice the investment of
the maker of the database” (267). A strong indication seems to come by the fact
that the principle of exhaustion applies in this field only in the sense of preventing
control on the resale of the database, whilst the original owner can still control ex-
traction and re-utilisation (268).
From an AI perspective, then, it is crucial to understand that provision (269),
briefly recounted above, according to which there is a new database, and according-
ly a new term of protection, if the event of “[a]ny substantial change, evaluated
qualitatively or quantitatively, to the contents of a database, including any substan-
tial change resulting from the accumulation of successive additions, deletions or al-
terations, which would result in the database being considered to be a substantial
new investment, evaluated qualitatively or quantitatively” (270). Now, given that AI
(263) Ivi, para. 71, where the court adds that “[a] quantitatively negligible part of the
contents of a database may in fact represent, in terms of obtaining, verification or presentation,
significant human, technical or financial investment”.
(264) Database Directive, recital 46 and
British Horseracing
, cit., para. 72.
British Horseracing
, cit., paras. 51 ff.
(266) Ivi, para. 52.
(267) Ivi, para. 53.
(268) Database Directive, Article 7(2)(b).
(269) Database Directive, Article 10(3).
(270) Database Directive, Article 10(3).
AIDA 2018
may render the change in a database’s contents easier, it may be argued that AI
could easily trigger this provision, thus potentially giving rise to a perpetual protec-
tion of the database, covering also those contents which have not been changed
To conclude on the infringement of AI databases, this can derive from the re-
peated and systematic extraction or re-utilisation of insubstantial parts of the con-
tents conflict with the normal exploitation of that database or unreasonably preju-
dice the legitimate interests of the maker (272). The purpose of this provision is to
avoid the extraction or re-utilisation of a substantial part of the contents ‘from the
back-door’ (273). Said repeated and systematic act is infringing only if the cumula-
tive effect seriously prejudges the investment (274) by leading to the unauthorised
“reconstitution of the database as a whole or, at the very least, of a substantial part
of it” (275). One should keep in mind, moreover, that infringing activity does not
have to be carried out necessarily with a view to create another database (276).
Therefore, for instance, it would be illegal if through data mining insubstantial parts
of an AI database are extracted thus leading to the reconstitution of the substantial
part of the database.
Now, unless the requirements of provision on repeated extraction are made
out, contractual clauses that restrict the lawful user’s right to extract or re-utilise in-
substantial parts of a database covered by a sui generis right are null and void
(277). Therefore, for example, Amazon’s contractual provision purporting to pre-
vent any extraction or re-utilisation of any contents of their services is unenforcea-
ble (278). Equally, one can argue for the unenforceability of the clause that bans
“data mining, robots, or similar data gathering and extraction tools (whether once
or many times)” (279). It is this paper’s subnmission that if it falls under the right
to insubstantial extraction, or any binding exception, such clauses would be null and
void. This user’s right is particularly relevant from this paper’s perspective, mostly
because it covers all acts of repeated insubstantial extraction or re-utilisation are
lawful, not only the non-commercial ones and no acknowledgement is required
(280). This, coupled with the prevalence on contracts, make this right more appeal-
ing to data miners than the research exception, as long as they design the model in
a way that target a number of different databases extracting or re-using repeatedly
the contents of each without going beyond the threshold of substantiality. The main
problem is likely to be how to code ‘substantiality’, since it is a rather vague con-
op. loc. cit.
are critical on the aspect of this perpetual pro-
tection that covers also old contents.
(272) Database Directive, Article 7(5).
(273) Common Position (EC) No 20/95 adopted by the Council on 10 July 1995, OJ
1995 C 288, 14.
British Horseracing
, cit., para. 86.
(275) Ivi, para. 87.
(276) Ivi, para. 86.
(277) Database Directive, Article 15.
(278) Amazon Conditions of Use and Sale, clause 3.
(279) Ibid.
(280) Database Directive, Article 8(1).
cept; therefore, further guidance from the Court of Justice would be much welcome
The second, crucial, research question is whether data mining used to create a
database is legal or not. The main obstacles seem contractual, e.g. if a website
Terms of Service prevent mining (282), as well as stemming from the fact that at
least part of the text and data mined may be covered by intellectual property rights
In the context of the Draft Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market,
data mining has been defined as “any automated analytical technique aiming to
analyse text and data in digital form in order to generate information such as pat-
terns, trends and correlations” (284) To understand how data mining works, the
relevant process can be divided in four stages (285). The first, not always present,
step includes scraping (286) and crawling (287), used by the miner search for the
relevant contents and retrieves the information, for instance by saving it on their
own device or on the cloud. The second step is the creation of a target dataset. This
may include the transformation of the contents for standardisation purposes, their
enrichment with metadata, and the selection of only a part of the content deemed
necessary for the analysis. The miner will extract said contents to a new dataset,
(281) On the problem of coding legal concepts, which has become urgent with the data
protection by design obligation under the GDPR, see inter alia NOTO LA DIEGA,
Against the
, cit., 3 and passim.
(282) See, e.g., Facebook’s Automated Data Collection Terms, last updated on 15 April
2010, and Amazon’s Conditions of Use and Sale, clause 3. On this aspect, see the original
work of STROWEL and DUCATO,
Limitations to text and data mining: Making the case for a
right to ‘machine legibility’ of T&C and privacy policies
(forthcoming), in the context of smart
disclosure systems and, in particular, of the automated analysis of contracts and privacy policy
for enhancing the awareness of consumer.
(283) See the rigorous work of MONTAGNANI and AIME,
Il text and data mining e il dirit-
to d’autore,
in this
2017, 376 ff., to which one can refer to for a more in-depth analy-
sis and bibliographic references.
(284) Draft Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market, Article 2(2). The European
Parliament, in the text adopted on 12 September 2018, improved the definition by pointing
out that data mining is a technique which “
analyses works and other subject matter
in digital
form in order to generate information,
including, but not limited to,
patterns, trends and cor-
relations” (in italics the innovations). Arguably, this broader definition better reflects the het-
erogeneous phenomenology of data mining.
op. cit.
, 9.
(286) Scraping is a “process of making a semi-structured document from the Internet
[…] and analyze the document to take certain data from the page to be used for other purpos-
Increased information retrieval capabilities on e-commerce
websites using scraping techniques
, in
2017 International Conference on Sustainable Infor-
mation Engineering and Technology
, IEEE, Piscataway, 2018, 226). In other words, it is a
“technique for extracting data from the World Wide Web […] and saving it to a file system or
database for retrieval or subsequent analysis” (ibid.).
(287) Scraping and crawling overlap, but scraping can be done “manually by the user or
automatically by the bot or the web crawler” (KURNJAWATI and TRIAWAN,
op. loc. cit
.). More-
over, a web scraper can be seen as the combination of a web crawler for crawling links and a
data extractor from crawled links. MAHTO and SINGH,
A dive into Web Scraper world
, in
2016 3rd International Conference on Computing for Sustainable Global Development
Piscataway, 2016, 689, 690.
AIDA 2018
which they will use for the third step of the process, i.e. analysis, which is done with
a mining software whose algorithm may be developed ad hoc by the miner but does
not have to. The last stage is the publication of the findings of their mining. This
can take many forms, from an academic paper to a proper database (288).
One could postulate that since the miners make free and creative choices in the
selection of the contents, as seen in the third step of the process, they are stamping
their personal touch on the database which would, therefore, be original and hence
protected by copyright (289). However, the originality must regard the selection of
pre-existing contents, not the creation of new ones, which is the essence of the data
mining process.
Computer scientists complain that the question of the legality of data mining
has not been answered with an adequate degree of certainty (290). In the US, some
certainty may have been achieved with eBay v Bidder’s Edge (291), where the judge
innovatively applied the trespass of chattels to an online activity and, accordingly,
granted an injunction to the notorious e-commerce portal to stop a bot from crawl-
ing its website for auction aggregation purposes. From this paper’s perspective, it is
important to underline that the court deemed relevant the fact that Bidder’s Edge
had to accept eBay’s terms of service. This case, however, cannot be considered a
reliable precedent because the dispute was settled out of court (292) and because
subsequent cases casted some doubts on its validity (293). Other US cases uphold
the legality (or at least non-illegality) of scraping because it would not breach anti-
hacking laws, whilst others consider it as a copyright infringing behaviour (294).
In Europe, currently, there is no data mining exception (295), however the ar-
gument could be put forward that it could fall within the scope of existing excep-
tions (296). The main references are to exceptions for temporary reproduction
(297), private copy (298), teaching and scientific research (299)
First, one should wonder whether data mining, in all its phases, could be re-
(288) Ibid.
Football Dataco
, cit., para 38.
(290) MAHTO and SINGH,
op. cit.,
689, who deal with web scraping, but the reasoning
applies to all data mining.
(291) 100 F.Supp.2d 1058 (N.D. Cal. 2000).
(292) MAHTO and SINGH,
op. loc. ult. cit..
Intel Corp. v. Hamidi
, 30 Cal. 4th 1342 (2003), and
White Buffalo Ventures
. Univ. of Tex. at
, 420 F.3d 366, 370-74 (5th. Cir. 2005).
(294) MAHTO and SINGH,
op. cit.
, 689-690. See inter alia
Linkedin v Doe Defendants,
Case No. 5:16-cv-4463 (US District Court, Aug. 8, 2016),
Linkedin v Robocog
, Case No.
C14-00068 (WHA) (US District Court, January 6, 2014), and
Southwest Airlines Co. v.
Boardfirst LLC
, Civ. Act. No. 3:06-CV-0891-B (N.D. Texas, September 12, 2007).
(295) Individual Member States, however, have introduced such an exception. See, e.g.,
in the UK, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 29A, as inserted by inserted
by The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Research, Education, Libraries and Archives)
Regulations 2014 (S.I. 2014/1372).
(296) The scope of the research exception and of the lawful user’s rights under the Data-
base Directive has been analysed above and will not be repeated here.
(297) Infosoc Directive, Article 5(1).
(298) Infosoc Directive, Article 5(2)(b).
(299) Infosoc Directive, Article 5(3)(a).
garded as mere transient or incidental reproduction solely aimed at a transmission
in a network between third parties by an intermediary, or a lawful use of a work to
be made, without independent economic significance. On the bright side, this ex-
ception is mandatory, therefore it is present in all Member States, though in some
of them it can be waived contractually (300). The main problem here is that the ex-
ception is designed for caching and browsing activities (301), and the Court of Jus-
tice has interpreted the relevant requirements narrowly (302). As seen in the 4-step
process described above, data mining can lead to copies which are not temporary or
accessory (303). Moreover, while data minding is open ended, the exception applies
only to specified purposes, such as the transmission in a network between third par-
ties. More importantly, such temporary reproduction cannot “lead to a modification
of that work” (304). This requirement is a gravestone to the possibility to use this
exception in our context, because data mining leads to said modification most of the
times, for instance if, during the analysis stage, the work is transformed to so that
the machine can process it (305).
Going on to the research exception, positively, unlike the homologous excep-
tion to the database rights, here acknowledgement is due only if it is possible, which
is usually not the case when it comes to data mining. However, arguably, it is even
less fit for data mining activities, because it is limited to the sole purpose of illustra-
tion for teaching or non-commercial scientific research (306). Moreover, Member
States have discretion as to whether to implement it. The first hurdle is that the na-
tional implementations have interpreted it narrowly, as mainly encompassing the
“personal use, study or (small scale) research” ( 307). In addition, its application to
the online environment is limited (308). Similar issues characterise the private copy
exception, which has been interpreted as the copies made in the family circle and it
applies only to natural persons for purposes that are not even indirectly commercial,
(300) For more information on this see, e.g., KRETSCHMER, DERCLAYE, FAVALE, and
The relationship between copyright and contract law
Intellectual Property Office Re-
search Paper No. 2010/4
, and, more recently, ARONSSON-STORRIER,
op. loc. ult. cit..
(301) InfoSoc Directive, recital 33.
(302) Court of Justice 5 June 2014, Public Relations Consultants Association v Newspa-
per Licensing Agency, case C-360/13, in this Journal, 2014, 1591, Infopaq, cit.., and Court of
Justice 4 October 2011, Football Association Premier League v QC Leisure, case C-403/08, in
ECR, 2011, I, 9083. See ALBERTI,
Radiodiffusione via satellite e clausole di esclusiva territo-
riale: note a margine di CEG, 4 ottobre 2011
, in
Europa e diritto privato
2012, 256, BONADIO
and SANTO,
Communication to the Public
" in
FAPL v QC Leisure and Murphy v Media Pro-
tection Services (C-403/08 and C-429/08)
, in
2012, 277 ff., GIETZELT and UNGERER,
Die urheberrechtliche Dimension des Internetbrowsens und Caching
, in
Zeitschrift für Ge-
2014, 278 ff..
(303) Triaille, de Meeûs d’Argenteuil, and de Francquen,
op. loc. ult. cit.
, cit., para. 54.
(305) Triaille, de Meeûs d’Argenteuil, and de Francquen,
op. cit.,
(306) For a more in-depth analysis of this aspects see Guibault, Westkamp, and Rieber-
Study on the implementation and effect in Member States’ laws of Directive
2001/29/EC on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the in-
formation society
, European Commission, Brussels, 2007, 49 ff.
op. cit.
, 34.
op. loc. ult. cit..
AIDA 2018
and require compensation (309). Moreover, it is optional, as evidenced by the fact
that the UK no longer has a private copy exception (310). These exceptions would
hardly apply to most data mining activities.
Overall, such exceptions may not confer effective rights to the consumers: they
are narrow, usually optional, overridable by means of contracts or TPMs, inconsist-
ently implemented, and, more importantly, do not cover most data mining phases
and activities (311).
In light of the methodological option of leaving the policy considerations to a
minimum while focusing on existing laws, a couple of words must be spent for the
proposed new text and data mining exception as provided by the Draft Directive on
Copyright in the Digital Single Market (312). The most positive and relevant inno-
vation is that the exception is mandatory (313) and not overridable by means of
contracts (314). The second aspect to be noted from this paper’s perspective is that
it applies expressly to general copyright, database copyright, sui generis right, and
the proposed publishers’ right (315). The main limitation is that only research or-
ganisations can avail themselves of this exception, only for scientific research pur-
poses, only if they had lawful access to the works, and it does to cover the re-
utilisation of the contents of a database (316). If this provision does not change, it
(309) VALENTI,
sub art. 12 l.a
Commentario breve alle
su proprietà intellettuale e concorrenza, Cedam, Padova, 2016, 1514.
(310) In the UK, the private copy exception has been quashed in 2015 and there is no
indication of a possible reinstatement, despite the hopes expressed in NOTO LA DIEGA,
In light
of the ends. Copyright hysteresis and private copy exception after the British Academy of
Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) and others v Secretary of State for Business,
Innovation and Skills case
, in
Diritto Mercato tecnologia,
2015, II, 1 ff..
(311) STROWEL and DUCATO, op. cit., 10 and HELBERGER ET AL., Digital Content Con-
tracts for Consumers, in J Consum Policy 2013, I, 37.
(312) Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 3.
(313) Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 3(1).
(314) Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 3(2).
(315) Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 3(1). The pro-
posal of a new publisher’s right for the digital use of their press publications (Article 11) has
given rise to a heated debate and criticism, which is very well represented by RICOLFI,
Academics against Press Publishers’ Right, Statement from
169 EU academics
(24 April 2018), available at
publishers-right/; STALLA-BOURDILLON ET AL.,
Open Letter to the European Commission –
On the Importance of Preserving the Consistency and Integrity of the EU Acquis Relating to
Content Monitoring within the Information Society
, in
19 October 2016, available
Strenghtening the position
of press publishers and authors and performers in the Copyright Directive
, European Parlia-
ment, Strasbourg, 2017, HILTY and MOSCON (eds),
Modernisation of the EU Copyright
Rules - Position Statement of the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition
September 2017), available at
des-eu-urheberrechts.html; and SENFTLEBEN ET AL.,
The Recommendation on Measures to
Safeguard Fundamental Rights and the Open Internet in the Framework of the EU Copyright
, in
2018, III, 149 ff. For a more optimistic take, see the rather isolated MELZI
La buona informazioni che garantisce diritti
, in
Il Sole 24 Ore
, 14 Sep-
tember 2018.
(316) Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 3(1).
will be as unimportant – from a data mining perspective – as the old research ex-
ception (317), with the only advantage of not being expressly limited to non-
commercial purposes (318), and to be binding, and mandatory. The European Par-
liament has further weakened this provision by suggesting that the not only the data
mining but also the research to which the former is preparatory must be carried out
by said research institutions. Arguably, this means that universities and research
centres will not be able to rely on the text and data mining exception, should they
decide to commercialise their data. Something similar applies to educational estab-
lishments and cultural heritage institutions. The Council and the Parliament have
opened to the possibility that these subjects, and not only research organisms, can
avail themselves of this exception, but only if an undertaking controlling them does
not benefit from the exception (319). The latest text, then, mandates some form of
TPMs or security measures by requiring that the reproductions and extractions
made for text and data mining must be stored securely. This may be seen as part of
the broader trend towards the technological enforcement of intellectual property
and its ratio may be to prevent re-utilisation or further dissemination of the data, in
a way that would unreasonably infringe the owner’s rights. More interestingly, the
reform attempts to prevent the abuse of TPMs by providing that the rightholders
can put in place measures to ensure the databases’ and network’s security and in-
tegrity, but this cannot go beyond what is necessary to achieve said objective (320).
Given that the over-protection of databases derives mainly from contracts and
TPMs, the binding nature of this exception and its limitation on TPMs is likely to
play a positive role in rebalancing the users-rightholders equilibrium.
Overall, the proposed text and data mining exception is too timid an attempt to
address an activity, like data mining, that is becoming pervasive and from which the
future of research may depend (321). Conversely, the right to extract or re-utilise
insubstantial parts of a database covered by a sui generis right may be a better fit for
data mining processes, because alongside being binding and not requiring acknowl-
(317) Interestingly, the version adopted by the European Parliament on 12 September
2018 allows Member States to “continue to provide text and data mining exceptions in ac-
cordance with point (a) of Article 5(3) of Directive 2001/29/EC” (Article 3(4). It must be
said, however, that this provision must be interpreted as meaning that the new exception does
not replace the research exception, but it complements it. Conversely, it should not be inter-
preted as meaning that if the Member States have implemented a research exception they do
not need to implement the text and data mining one.
(318) Since the research exception covers only the use “for the
sole purpose
of…scientific research” (Infosoc Directive, Article 5(3)(a), the reference merely to research in
the text and data mining exception is to be interpreted as meaning that the exception can be
invoked in mixed projects where research is coupled with other objectives. Cf. TRIAILLE, DE
op. cit.,
(319) This is the meaning this author attributes to the new final sentence of Article 3(1)
of the Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, as voted by the Parliament on
12 September 2018. However, the wording of the provision is so obscure that the proposed
interpretation may be entirely wrong.
(320) Draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 3(3), left un-
touched as of 17 September 2018.
(321) Triaille, de Meeûs d’Argenteuil, and de Francquen,
op. cit.,
AIDA 2018
edgment, it is not limited to research purposes and to research organisms. Even the
research exception to the sui generis act is better than the research exception to
copyright, because it covers also those activities where ‘research’ is not the sole
purposes. These are further reasons to revitalise the sui generis right (322). It must
be kept in mind, finally, that even in the event that data mining were to be consid-
ered as an infringing act, the resulting AI database may still qualify for protection in
at least (323) three scenarios. First, there has been a separate investment in the ob-
taining, creating, presenting of the contents. Second, data mining itself is seen as
‘obtaining’ data. Third, a reversing case law abandons the creating-obtaining di-
7. The existence of an ad-hoc instrument such as the Database Directive should
not obfuscate the fact that databases were and are protected by a wide array of legal
tools (324). In particular, this section will focus on TPMs, contracts, and unfair
competition, whose joint operation might lead to an over-protection of databases.
Empirical evidence and doctrinal studies (325) support the view that these legal re-
gimes are more important than copyright and sui generis right in the age of Big
Machine Data (Table n. 1). Other legal regimes that might apply and that will not
be analysed in this paper include patents, trade marks, design rights, the protection
of national treasures, laws on security, confidentiality, data protection, privacy, and
access to public information (326). Even if confidentiality is mentioned by the Da-
tabase Directive as one of the regimes that are not affected by the directive (327), it
is this author’s conviction that trade secrets are not a suitable tool for the protection
of databases, which are designed to be made available to the public (328).
(322) This is not to say, however, that changing the proposed text and data mining ex-
ception is not of the utmost importance. It is hoped that the trilogue will lead to amendments
to the text and data mining exception that will get rid of the problematic aspects mentioned
above. This is because data mining may lead to the infringement not only of the sui generis
right, but also of other intellectual property rights on the contents of the database.
(323) Consistently with this paper’s premises, we are not considering copyright protec-
tion as a possible scenario, though in the future this might need some further thoughts, should
the human element be considered necessary to make out the originality requirement, or shoud
the requirement were altogether abandoned.
(324) For a comprehensive, though partly outdated, overview see DERCLAYE,
The Legal
Protection of Databases
, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2008, passim. More recently, and less
comprehensively, see DREXL,
Designing Competitive Markets for Industrial Data – Between
Propertisation and Access
, in
2017, VIII, 257. More generally, see JIIP and TECH-
Study in support of the evaluation of Directive 96/9/EC on the legal protec-
tion of databases – Annex 1: In-depth analysis of the Database Directive, article by article
, Eu-
ropean Commission, Brussels, 2018 (hereinafter ‘Legal annex’).
(325) DREXL,
op. cit.,
para 42 and passim, and Legal annex, cit., 134.
(326) These regimes are not affected by the Database Directive, which provides their
continued application under Article 13.
(327) Database Directive, Article 13.
(328) See DREXL,
op. cit.,
for the trade secrets protection. However, Drexl’s focus is on
machine data and raw data more generally, not to proper databases. Indeed, a database is de-
signed for its content to be available and retrievable, whereas trade secrets regard information
that is not readily accessible and subject to steps to keep it secret. On the incompatibility
22 21
Suigeneris Copyright
Stronglyagree Agree
Neitheragreeordisagree Disagree
Stronglydisagree Idon'tknow
Table n. 1. Experts’ answers to the question ‘Do you consider that the databases
that gather vast amount of data with the help of emerging/advanced technologies
(e.g. sensor technologies) should benefit from the following means of protection
against unauthorised use?’(329).
Starting off with the TPMs (330), it is useful to keep in mind that the Directive
on the Information Society professedly leaves intact and in no way affects the legal
protection of databases (331). Nonetheless, it adds two layers of protection regard-
between databases and trade secrets, see Trib. Bologna sez. Impresa civ 4 July 2017 n. 1371,
unpublished. There is no awareness of such incompatibility in Chalton,
The legal protection of
Thorogood, London, 2001, 86-87. On the definition of trade secrets, see Directive
(EU) 2016/943 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2016 on the protec-
tion of undisclosed know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful
acquisition, use and disclosure [2016] OJ L 157/1, Article 2(1). At the time of writing, 16
Member States have transposed this directive into national legislation. See, e.g., in Italy, the
decreto legislativo
11 May 2018 n. 63 modifying the
decreto legislativo
10 February 2005 n.
30 (Industrial Property Code) and, in the UK, the Trade Secrets (Enforcement, etc.) Regula-
tions 2018, S.I. 2018 n. 597. Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Cyprus,
Latvia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Romania, and Slovenia have failed to
transpose it.
(329) Legal annex, cit., 134, but the table has been made by this author.
(330) TPMs deserve a separate focus because they can be used to restrict access also to
content not covered by intellectual property rights. See, e.g., HUGENHOLTZ,
, cit., 219
The legal protection
, cit., 191.
(331)Infosoc Directive, Article 1(2)(e), recital 20.
AIDA 2018
ing Digital Rights Management (DRMs) and TPMs (332). They are of great im-
portance because data producers can use such measures to over-protect their data-
bases “over and above the protection granted by the sui generis right” (333). First,
Member States must provide for the protection against any person that knowingly
(334) distributes, imports for distribution, broadcasts, communicates or makes
available to the public any copyright material and databases covered by the sui
generis right from which the DRM “has been removed or altered without authority”
(335). Second, Member States must prevent the circumvention of any TPMs,
“which the person concerned carries out in the knowledge, or with reasonable
grounds to know, that he or she is pursuing that objective” (336).
AI is very relevant when it comes to TPMs and DRM for a twofold reason. On
the one hand, the subjective element in the actions against the removal of DRM and
against the circumvention of TPMs might render the application of this provision
problematic when the circumvention measures are fully automated, especially with
strong AI, because it would be difficult to show that the infringement had been car-
ried out or facilitated knowingly. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that, as
stated in Nintendo v PC Box (337), in assessing the purpose of potentially circum-
venting devices, products or components, national courts may examine how often
(332) The international basis of such measures is the WIPO Copyright Treaty, Article 11.
Many systems have similar provisions in place. See, e.g., the US Digital Millennium Copyright
Act (17 U.S. Code § 1201) and the Swiss Bundesgesetz über das Urheberrecht und verwandte
Schutzrechte, Article 39a. See, inter alia, BECHTOLD,
Digital Rights Management in the Unit-
ed States and Europe
, in
American Journal of Comparative Law
, 2004, 323 ff., GASSER,
Frameworks and Technological Protection of Digital Content: Moving Forward Towards a
Best Practice Model
, Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2006-04; KERR,
Digital Locks
and the Automation of Virtue
, in GEIST (ed),
From "Radical Extremism" to "Balanced Copy-
right": Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda
, Irwin Law, Toronto, 2010, 247, and
How to Circumvent Technological Protection Measures Without Violating the
DMCA: An Examination of Technological Protection Measures Under Current Legal Stand-
, in
Berkeley Technology Law Journal
, 2011, 491 ff.
The legal protection
, cit., 191.
(334) The person must know or have reasonable reasons to know that this way they are
inducing, enabling, facilitating or concealing an infringement of copyright or sui generis right.
Infosoc Directive, Article 7(1).
(335) Infosoc Directive, Article 7(1)(b). Rights-management information is defined as
“any information provided by rightholders which identifies the work or other subject-matter
referred to in this Directive or covered by the sui generis right provided for in Chapter III of
Directive 96/9/EC, the author or any other rightholder, or information about the terms and
conditions of use of the work or other subject-matter, and any numbers or codes that repre-
sent such information” (Infosoc Directive, Article 7(2)).
(336) Infosoc Directive, Article 6(1), italics added. This directive explicitly defines TPMs
as “any technology, device or component that, in the normal course of its operation, is de-
signed to prevent or restrict acts, in respect of works or other subject-matter, which are not
authorised by the rightholder of any copyright or
any right related to copyright as provided for
by law or the sui generis right provided for in Chapter III of Directive 96/9/EC
” (Article 6(3),
italics added).
(337) Court of Justice 23 January 2014, Nintendo v PC Box, case C-355/12, in EIPR,
2014, 335, with a comment by MINERO, Videogames, consoles and technological measures:
the Nintendo v PC Box and 9Net Case. See also RENDAS,
Lex Specialis(sima): Videogames
and Technological Protection Measures
EU Copyright Law
, ivi, 2015, 39.
they “are in fact used in disregard of copyright and how often they are used for
purposes which do not infringe copyright” (338). While AI in general is a versatile
tool that lends itself to manifold uses, it cannot be ruled out that specific AI applica-
tions might be deemed to be illegally circumventing TPMs. Moreover, the Infosoc
Directive (339) rules out the manufacture, import, etc. of products that are pro-
moted as circumventing, have only a limited commercially significant purpose or
use other than to circumvent TPMs, or are primarily designed to enable or facilitate
such circumvention. The more we move towards strong and general AI, intrinsically
multi-purpose, the more unlikely will be the application of this regime to AI circum-
venting measures. Second, and more importantly, AI can be used not only as a cir-
cumvention measure, but also as a TPM in itself. AI is increasingly used to prevent
infringement in a way that does not cope well with the copyright exceptions and
limitations (340) and with the principle of exhaustion (341) leading to over-
protection (342) and in a way that hinders cultural diversity (343). The problems
with TPMs and exceptions are exacerbated by AI and other technologies such as
blockchain, but they predate them (344). AI-enabled TPMs and DRMs are just the
confirmation that the (binary) code may as well be seen as a form of law (345), but
the law cannot be reduced to code (346), because it mirrors the complexity of its
language and of the politics that produces it (347).
(338) Nintendo v PC Box, cit., para. 39.
(339) Infosoc Directive, Article 6(2).
(340) It is for the national court to determine whether a fair balance has been struck and
whether other measures “could cause less interference with the activities of third parties or
limitations to those activities, while still providing comparable protection of the rightholder’s
rights” (ibidem). The problem of TPMs and exceptions will be partly addressed by the Draft
Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market, which makes certain exceptions mandatory
and not contractually-overridable.
(341) On the overridability of the principle of exhaustion by means of TPMs see DER-
The legal protection
, cit., 211.
op. loc. ult. cit.
op. loc.
ult. cit.
Automated anti-piracy systems as copy-
right enforcement mechanism: a need to consider cultural diversity
, in
2018, IV, 218.
(344) See, e.g., BRAUN,
The interface between the protection of technological measures
and the exercise of exceptions to copyright and related rights: comparing the situation
in the
United States and the European Community
, in
2003, XI, 496 ff.. On blockchain,
TPMs, and DRMs, see DE FILIPPI, and HASSAN,
Blockchain Technology as a Regulatory
Technology: From Code is Law to Law is Code
, in
First Monday
2016, XII, that underlines
how DRM can “prevent users from legitimately accessing or reproducing copies of a work,
since the code rarely differentiates among the different types of users”.
(345) The obvious reference is to LESSIG,
Code v2
, Basic Books, New York, 2006. The
idea of code as law has received a number of articulated objections, some of which very well
articulated in O’HARA,
Smart Contracts – Dumb idea
, in
IEEE Internet Computing
2017, II,
97 ff..
(346) For an example of this reductionist view see CASEY and NIBLETT,
The death of
rules and standards
, in
Ind. LJ.
2016, 1401. An excellent critical response has been given by
Abstract Innovation, Virtual Ideas, and Artificial Legal Thought
, in
Mar. J. Bus. &
Tech. L.
(forthcoming) 22 ff. of the manuscript.
(347) More on these aspects in NOTO LA DIEGA,
Against the dehumanisation
, cit., 3 ff..
AIDA 2018
Interestingly, while all general provisions on TPMs and DRMs apply to data-
bases sic et simpliciter, the obligation for Member States to take appropriate
measures to ensure that rightholders make available to the beneficiary of an excep-
tion or limitation provided for in national law (348) the means of benefiting from
that exception or limitation is only to be applied in the context of the Database Di-
rective only “mutatis mutandis” (349). It is not entirely clear which part of the rele-
vant regime needs tweaking. This author’s conjecture is that the normative frag-
ment that does not apply to databases is the one that provides the non-application
of the said regime on exceptions if the work is “made available to the public on
agreed contractual terms in such a way that members of the public may access them
from a place and at a time individually chosen by them” (350). Indeed, the applica-
tion of this provision to databases would risk bringing most of them outside of its
While it has been argued (351) that TPMs do not necessarily lead to over-
protection, this cannot be said for sole-source databases (352) and other situations
in which there is not or little competition in the market, which makes the digital
lock up very likely (353). In highly competitive markets, a competitor could exploit
the abuse of TPMs from a competitor to sell a more ‘open’ database, which may at-
tract part of the market (354). There is no evidence on whether the market of AI
databases be oligopolistic because given that there is no registration requirement
one can hardly depict the relevant market with accuracy (355). However, the ma-
jority of the competition law literature is pointing out how AI decreases competi-
tion, to the point that it will “end competition as we know it” (356). Therefore, it is
(348) Infosoc Directive, Articles 5(2)(a)-(e), (3)(a), (3)(b) and (3)(e).
(349) Infosoc Directive, Article 6(4).
(350) Infosoc Directive, Article 6(4).
The legal protection
, cit., 193, which seems to limit this view to multi-
ple source databases.
(352) A database is ‘sole-source’, if it is the only available source for certain data. Its an-
tonym is ‘multiple-source databases.
(353) STROWEL,
La protection des mesures techniques: une couche en trop? Quelques
remarques à propos du texte de Kamiel Koelman
, in
Auteurs & Média
, 2001, 90; STROWEL
L’émergence d’un droit d’accès en droit d’auteur ? Quelques réflexions sur le devenir du droit
Le droit d’auteur adapté à l’univers nu-
mérique, Bruylant, Brussels
, 2008, 61; ROTHCHILD,
Economic analysis of technological pro-
tection measures
, in
Oregon Law Review
, 2005, 489, 561, SAMUELSON,
Intellectual Property
and the digital economy: why the anti-circumvention provisions need to be revisited
, in
ley Technology Law Journal
, 1999, 519.
op. ult. cit
., 566.
(355) Therefore, the most recent empirical analysis of the database industry in Europe re-
lies on the GALE Directory of Databases. JIIP and TECHNOPOLIS GROUP,
Economic analysis,
cit., 3. However, it is meaningful that at the workshop organised to collect evidence in the
context of said study, it has been noted that data “is in the hands of few players who will exer-
cise undue monopoly power for information that should be open data” (
, 27), and this opin-
ion is shared by two of the surveyed experts.
(356) EZRACHI and STUCKE, Virtual Competition
: The Promise and Perils of the Algo-
rithm-Driven Economy
, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Ma), 2016, 218. Along the
same lines, see MEHRA,
Antitrust and the Robo-Seller: Competition in the Time of Algorithms
Minn. L. Rev.
2016, 1323 ff., SURBLYTE,
Data-Driven Economy and Artificial Intelligence:
not unreasonable to imagine that the invisible hand of the market will not fix the
power abuses made possible by the digital locks, which leads us to talk about the
competition law tools that can protect databases. Competition law plays a key role
because in the information society most services are data-fuelled and, accordingly,
the heart of the matter is becoming “control of data, i.e. information, as the source
of ‘dominant positions’” (357).
The Database Directive itself recognises that (then not harmonised (358)) un-
fair-competition legislation covers databases and can prevent the extraction and re-
utilisation of the contents thereof (359). It is moreover confirmed that the right to
prohibit extraction and/or re-utilisation “relates not only to the manufacture of a
parasitical competing product but also to any user who, through his acts, causes
significant detriment, evaluated qualitatively or quantitatively, to the investment”
(360). Equally, said directive expressly recognises that the sui generis right lends it-
self to anti-competitive abuses, in particular when the rightholder is a dominant en-
terprise; therefore, the Database Directive is “without prejudice to the application of
Community or national competition rules” (361). Quite appositely, the Proposal
(362) of the Directive included compulsory licensing provisions on fair and non-
discriminatory terms (363), which have been struck out during the adoption proce-
dure. What is left is the European Commission’s duty to submit a triennial report to
verify “especially whether the application of [the sui generis] right has led to abuse
of a dominant position or other interference with free competition” (364). Given
that in the decades following the adoption of the directive, the report has been pub-
lished only once (365), one may infer that addressing the anti-competitive conse-
Emerging Competition Law Issues
, in
2017, 120 ff., CALO,
Digital Market Manipula-
, in
George Washington Law Review
2014, 995 ff.. Contra, PETIT,
Antitrust and Artificial
Intelligence: A research Agenda
, in
Journal of European Competition Law & Practice
VI, 361 ff.
(357) GHIDINI,
cit., 244.
(358) See now Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of
11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal
market and amending Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC and
2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Regulation (EC) No
2006/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council (Unfair Commercial Practices Di-
rective’) [2005] OJ L 149/ 22.
(359) Database Directive, recital 6. On the database rights as barriers to entry see PEZ-
Big Data e antitrust: un’occasione per tornare ad occuparci di struttura?
, in FALCE,
op. cit.
, ch. 12, and FALCE,
Copyrights on data and competition policy in
the digital single market strategy,
Italian Antitrust Review
2018, I, 32.
(360) Database Directive, recital 42, italics added.
(361) Database Directive, recital 47. See also Article 13
(362) Proposal for a Council Directive on the legal protection of databases (92/C 156
/03) COM(92) 24 final (Draft Database Directive).
(363)Article 8(2) of the Draft Database Directive provided that “(t]he right to extract and
re-utilize the contents of a database shall also be licensed on fair and non-discriminatory terms
if the database is made publicly available by a public body which is either established to assem-
ble or disclose information pursuant to legislation, or is under a general duty to do so”. See al-
so the original recitals 31-35.
(364) Database Directive, Article 16(3).
(365) DUTILH,
The implementation and application of Directive 96/9/EC on the legal
AIDA 2018
quences of the database rights is not a top priority for the Commission (366).
When the Database Directive was drafted, the link between database rights and
competition was considerably stronger. Indeed, the sui generis right was “very close
to an unfair competition action for slavish imitation or parasitism” (367). This is in
line with the fact that unfair competition laws act as an “ incubator for new types of
rights to emerge, which are later-on integrated into the corpus of traditional intel-
lectual property laws or are transformed into rights sui generis” (368). The fact that
the final version of the directive abandoned said approach in favour of a proprietary
one does not mean, however, the competition law becomes irrelevant; indeed, it can
be used both to protect the users against abuses of their database rights (369) and
to protect the rightholders against unfair practices that do not qualify as infringe-
The only time the Court of Justice dealt with databases from a competition per-
spective was, incidentally, in Compass-Datenbank (370), which regards a ca, se of
alleged abuse of the sui generis right. In that context, the Court held that a public
authority does not exercise an economic activity when it stores, in a database, data
which businesses are statutorily obliged to report, allows interested parties to search
for that data, and provides them with print-outs; thereof said public authority must
not “be regarded, in the course of that activity, as an undertaking, within the mean-
protection of databases
, European Commission, Brussels, 2001.
(366) In 2005, HUGENHOLTZ,
cit., 219 hypothesised that the report had “been
postponed indefinitely”.
Legal annex
, cit., 120.
(368) KUR,
What to Protect, and How? Unfair Competition, Intellectual Property, or
Protection Sui Generis
, in LEE, WESTKAMP, KUR, and OHLY (eds),
Intellectual property, un-
fair competition and publicity: convergences and development
, Elgar, Cheltenham, 2014, 11.
(369) On the abuse of the database rights, see FALCE,
, cit., 41, and
cit., 219. On the abuse of copyright as a conceptualisation of the public
interest defence, see the interesting BURRELL and COLEMAN,
Copyright Exceptions: The Digi-
tal Impact,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, 287. On the
abuse de droit
to the intellectual property rights see Caron,
Abus de droit et droit d’auteur
, Litec, 1998,
Abus et propriété intellectuelle ou du bon usage des droits,
Intellectual Property for the 21st Century: Multidisciplinary Per-
spectives on Intellectual Property Law
, Irwin Law, Toronto, 2014, 114, ZENKER,
und Rechtsmissbrauch
, Nomos, Baden-Baden, 2018, and, incidentally, RICOLFI
, Diritto
d’autore ed abuso di posizione dominante
, in
Dir. aut.
2002, II, 215 who refers to MARZANO,
Diritto d’autore ed antitrust tra mercati concorrenziali e network economies
, in
Dir. aut.
1998, 430 and PATTERSON,
Copyright Misuse and Modified Copyleft: New Solutions to the
Challenges of Internet Standardization
, in
Michigan Law Review
, 2000, 1351. On the
abus de
in general see, among the recent works, FURGIUELE,
Abuso del diritto. Significato e valo-
re di una tecnica argomentativa in diversi settori dell’ordinamento
, Edizioni Scientifiche Italia-
ne, Naples, 2017, and CAPOTORTI,
L’abuso del diritto nell’ordinamento dell’Unione Europea
Doctor thesis – University of Milan, 2017.
(370) Court of Justice 12 July 2012, Compass-Datenbank, case C-138/11, in Europe,
2012, X, 40 with a comment by IDOT, Champ d’application materiel. See LUNDQVIST,
ing Government Data Into Gold”: The Interface Between EU Competition Law and the Public
Sector Information Directive, in International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition
2013, 79 ff. and ROBIN,
Prérogative de puissance publique n’est pas activité économique
en droit de la concurrence
, in
Revue Lamy de la Concurrence
2013, 28 ff..
ing of Article 102 TFEU” (371) on the abuse of dominant position. Moreover, the
prohibition of any use based on the sui generis right, or on the exercise of any other
intellectual property right, still is not enough to qualify the activity as economic
(372). Whilst this ruling is of some importance from a competition law perspective,
the same cannot be said from a genuine database perspective (373). From the latter
angle, this ruling has little relevance. Indeed, private undertakings relying on data-
base rights are likely to fall under Article 102 TFEU, should all the requirements be
met. An example is the Nuovoimaie case (374), where the Italian Competition Au-
thority found that the company, a dominant operator in the copyright law related
rights management and intermediation market, had abused its position by inter alia
denying new entrants access to the general archive of works and artists. Conse-
quently, the authority accepted Nuovoimaie’s commitments to license access to the
database either freely to the database updated as of mid-March 2014, or access to
the full database against an annual license fee of 4.5% of the total royalties managed
(375). This is in line with the case law (376) according to which if intellectual
property owners, in exercising their exclusive rights, threaten competition and con-
sumer choice, can be held liable for abuse of dominant position (377).
Even those who argue against a sui generis right on machine-generated data
, cit., para. 53.
(372) Ivi, para. 51.
(373) In the lack of ad-hoc guidance, it is suggested to keep in mind that the main pur-
pose of the sui generis right is to promote investment, not simply to reward it; therefore, any
abusive conduct that would “clearly contravene the stated purpose of the database right would
[..] run the risk of being disqualified as being anticompetitive” (HUGENHOLTZ,
(374) Italian Competition Authority (
Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato
22 March 2017 n. A489.
(375) A more recent example is the inquiry launched by the Italian Competition Authority
against the main operators of the distribution and sale of electricity, whose strategy involved
possible commercial exploitation of the database and billing data of standard offer customers.
Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato 4 May 2017 nn. A511, A512, A513, avai-
lable at,-a2a-e-
acea-per-condotte-anticoncorrenziali-nel-mercato-della-vendita-di-energia-elettrica.html, ac-
cessed 6 September 2018. The authority has not reached a decision yet.
(376) Court of Justice, 8 September 2016, Lundbeck, case T-472/13, in Competition
Law Insight, 2016, X, 12, with a comment by COLE and ROBERT,
A landmark judgment: The
General Court has affirmed the Lundbeck pay-for-delay decision
; Court of Justice 16 July
Huawei v ZTE
, case C-170/13, in GRUR Int, 2015, 781, with a comment by HILTY
Standardessentielle Patente – Perspektiven außerhalb des Kartellrechts
; Final
report of the Hearing Officer in Case COMP/38.636 –
[2010] OJ C 30/15; Court of
Justice 1 July 2010,
, case T-321/05, in
World Competition,
2011, II, 245 with a
Astrazeneca’s Abuse of IPR-Related Proce-
dures: A Hypothesis of Anti-Trust Offence, Abuse of Rights, and IPR Misuse
; Court of Justice
17 September 2007,
, case T-201/04, in ECR, 2007, II, 3601; Commission Deci-
sion of 21 December 1988 relating to a proceeding under Article 86 of the EEC Treaty
(IV/31.851 -
) [1989] OJ L 78/43.
(377) On the topic, in general, see RICOLFI, cit. and CAPUANO,
Abuso di posizione domi-
nante e proprietà intellettuale nel diritto dell’Unione europei
, Editoriale Scientifica, Naples,
2012. Cf. KERBER,
Digital Markets, Data, and Privacy: Competition Law, Consumer Law and
Data Protection
op. cit
., ch. 1.
AIDA 2018
accept that its anti-competitive consequences could be tempered by invoking anti-
trust remedies and in particular the abuse of dominant position.378 Positively,
competition authorities are starting to look into personal and non-personal data
(379), and antitrust categories such as the essential facility doctrine may play a key
role in avoiding proprietary excesses (380). In addition, since the Court of Justice
has recognised that the abus de droit (abuse of right) is a general principle of EU
Law (381), database owners abusive practices could be countered also in the ab-
sence of a dominant position (382).
From the opposite perspective – competition as a protection for the righthold-
ers – the main reference is to the slavish imitation as a form of unfair competition,
which remedies a risk of confusion separate” (383) from the mere reproduction.
There is slavish imitation if a database is insubstantially copied or otherwise exploit-
ed in their distinctive elements (384), when there is no technical reason to copy it
or exploit it in order to profit from the research, development and marketing of the
competitor (385). In Football Dataco (386), the Court of Justice had been asked
whether the Database Directive precluded national rights in the nature of copyright
in databases other than those provided for by directive itself. An adequate answer
could have clarified the relationship between the database rights and unfair compe-
tition law. However, unfortunately, the Court interpreted the question narrowly as if
referred merely to the question whether national laws can subject the database cop-
yright to criteria others than originality (to which the answer is no) (387). Nonethe-
less, Football Dataco has been construed broadly as meaning that “it is not possible
(378) FALCE,
cit., 41 argues against the sui generis protection for machine
generated data, but with the caveat that “should the sui generis protection framework be re-
tained, one could suggest to rely on the role antitrust norms can play as procompetitive anti-
bodies.” According to GHIDINI,
cit., 243, unfair competition would be a better
form of protection for non-personal data, if compared to the sui generis right.
(379) GHIDINI,
, cit., 243.
(380) Ivi, 244. The idea of big data as essential facility has been developed by GRAEF, EU
Competition Law, Data Protection and Online Platforms, Wolters Kluwer, 2016.
Halifax e a
., C-255/02, EU:C:2006:121, 68;
., C-155/13,
EU:C:2014:145, 29, quoted in FALCE,
op. ult.
, 41, fn 43.
(382) Ibidem.
Legal annex
, cit., 120.
(384) Therefore, if the database does not have elements that act as a badge of origin or if
the new database contains such alterations that exclude consumers’ confusion, then the rele-
vant remedy should not be available. See, e.g., Tribunale di Napoli 4 March 2014, in
ne Giuffre’
and Trib. Milan, sez.
24 December 2013, in Riv. dir. ind., 2014, II, 41
with a comment by CAPRA.
(385) This definition is adapted from the one provided by STECKLER,
Unfair trade prac-
tices under German law: "slavish imitation" of commercial and industrial activities
, in
1996, VII, 390. More recently see SUJECKI,
Slavish imitation and trade mark protection: a
Dutch perspective
, in
2011, XII, 743 ff.. More generally, see LA VILLA,
Imitazione servi-
le e forme di mercato
, Giuffre’, Milan, 1976; DI CATALDO,
L’imitazione servile
, Giuffre’, Mi-
lan, 1979, and ARCIDIACONO,
Parassitismo e imitazione servile non confusoria
, Giappichelli,
Turin, 2017.
Football Dataco
, cit., para. 24(2).
(387) Ivi, paras. 47 and 52.
to cumulate slavish imitation or parasitism with the sui generis right” (388). This
interpretation seems to go too far, because the paragraph of the ruling it refers to
simply states that the Database Directive harmonised the criteria for copyright pro-
tection “as is apparent from recital 60” (389), which points out how said criteria
are harmonised without affecting the term of protection. This interpretation, along-
side going against the clear meaning of Football Dataco, does not take into account
that the Database Directive is expressly “are without prejudice to the application of
Community or national competition rules” (390). A stronger argument in favour of
the non-cumulation of sui generis right and parasitism is that the Directive consid-
ered that existing legislation protecting databases, with different attributes (391),
negatively affects the functioning of the internal market (392). However, apart from
the fact that the directive expressly states the continued application of competition
law (393), it is clear that the main reference when talking about obstacles to the
free movement of databases is copyright (394), and it is clearly provided that differ-
ent legislations “not adversely affecting the functioning of the internal market or the
development of an information market within the Community need not be removed
or prevented from arising” (395). On top of that, the differences between the unfair
commercial practices laws have been reduced (396) after the adoption of the Unfair
Commercial Practices Directive (397). Therefore, the cumulation of parasitism and
sui generis right cannot be ruled out. And indeed, if one looks at the national legal
systems, many Member States “still cumulate slavish imitation with the sui generis
right and/or copyright” (398), despite most of the relevant literature being against
it. A good example is France (399), where notwithstanding the Cour de Cassation
not upholding the sui generis-parasitism overlap (400), French first instance courts
are split on the issue (401) and recent Cour de Cassation decisions allow the over-
Legal annex
, cit., 120, interpreting
Football Data-
, cit., para. 49.
Football Dataco
, cit., para. 49.
(390) Database Directive, recital 47. See also Article 13.
(391) Database Directive, recital 1.
(392) Database Directive, recital 2.
(393) Database Directive, Article 13.
Football Dataco
, cit., para. 48, Database Directive, recital 4.
(395) Database Directive, recital 2.
(396) Reduced and not eliminated because the directive applies only to business-to-
consumer relationships, and also because several aspects are left unharmonised.
(397) This directive has been transposed in all Member States. In Italy, for instance, see
decreto legislativo
6 September 2005 n. 206 (
Codice del consumo
), Articles 18-27 quater.
(398) Legal annex, cit., 121.
(399) Similarly, in Spain,
Tribunal Supremo
30 January 2008 n. 14, in ORTEGA DO-
El derecho de autor en la Jurisprudencia del Tribunal Supremo
, Reus, Madrid,
2013, 27, in Germany BGH Bundergerightshof 6 May 1999, I ZR 199/96, and, in Italy, for
instance, Trib. Milan sez.
1 August 2016, in this
2017, 1815; Corte app. Bo-
logna 10 February 2017 n. 356, Giurisprudenza delle Imprese.
(400) Court of Cassation 12 November 2015 n. 14-14501,
Pressimmo on Ligne v.
, unpublished, but available at
=JURITEXT000031478862, accessed 6 September 2018.
(401) Legal annex, cit., 121.
AIDA 2018
lap between slavish imitation and other intellectual property rights (402). Now,
while a final conclusion on the issue cannot be reached, it would seem that the re-
course to the unfair commercial practices regime is unlikely to lead to over-
protection of databases because most makers are unfamiliar with it (403) and un-
fair competition is not used much in database-related litigation (404), unlike con-
tracts that are the crucial element in many database disputes.
Even when a database is not protected by copyright and sui generis right – bet-
ter, above all when it is not – contracts and TPMs are used to restrict access to da-
tabases in a way which is problematic particularly when it comes to the “de facto
monopolization of data by sole-source database producers” (405). Possible solu-
tions include a compulsory license and an obligation on the part of provider “to ac-
tually deliver the data under fair and non-discriminatory terms” (406), like in the
realms of standard essential patents (407) and telecommunications law (408).
Indeed, the detrimental and over-protective consequences of the use of con-
tracts in the protection of database was made clear in Ryanair v PR Aviation (409),
which is particularly relevant from an AI perspective because it regards an automat-
ed meta-search engine. The defendant was a website operator allowing consumers
to search through the flights of low-cost air companies, compare conditions, and
book a flight. Its meta-search engine gets the data in an automated way from a da-
taset linked to the Ryanair website. The defendant’s screen scraping, i.e. the auto-
mated extraction of data from a website (410), was in violation of the Terms &
Conditions (411) that put in place an exclusive distribution system and prevent un-
authorised websites to sell Ryanair flights. The use of the website was limited to pri-
vate non-commercial purposes.
Now, the defendant’s arguments, upheld by the referring court, revolved
around that the national implementation of the Database Directive provided some
Intellectual Property Overlaps: A European Perspective
Hart, Oxford, 2011, 173.
(403) Nearly 60% of the database makers surveyed in the context of the JIIP and Tech-
nopolis Group,
Legal annex
, cit., 123, answered “I do not know” to the question “How would
you compare the protection of your databases through unfair competition law with their pro-
tection via the sui generis right?”.
(404) Sixty-five percent of the respondents affirmed that they never encountered legal
proceedings where unfair competition law was used to protect databases. Ibidem.
cit., 219.
(406) Ibidem.
(407) See, recently, BOSWORTH, MANGUM, and MATOLO,
FRAND Commitments and
Royalties for Standard Essential Patents
cations and Quandaries in the ICT Sector
, Springer, Singapore, 2018, 19 ff.
(408) Court of Justice 25 November 2004, KPN v. OPTA, case C-109/03, in ECR,
2004, I, 11273. See Pace,
Comunicazioni elettroniche, servizio di repertoriazione e superdo-
, in
Europa e diritto privato
2006, 851.
, cit., 312.
Baseline Report of Policies and Barriers of TDM in
, Future TDM, Wien, 2016, 9.
(411) The current version of the Terms & Conditions, as updated on 5 September 2018,
no longer contains such provisions. See Ryanair General Terms & Conditions of Carriage,
available at
limitations to the contractual autonomy. In particular, the rightholder cannot pre-
vent the lawful user from accessing the contents and making normal use of them
(412) and this exception cannot be contractually overridden (413). However, the
referring court noted that the database de quo was not protected because of lack of
originality and of substantial investment. Therefore, the question to the Court of
Justice was whether the scope of the Database Directive covers unprotected data-
bases and, consequently, whether the limits on contractual freedom resulting from
the non contractually-overridable exceptions and users’ rights (414) apply also to
such databases (415).
According to the Court, it is immaterial that Ryanair’s database matches the
definition of database give in the directive. The latter provides for two different sets
of rights and obligations that apply only if the relevant criteria are met (respectively,
originality and substantial investment). Therefore, in the Court’s reasoning, if the
database maker does not have a right under the directive, then exceptions cannot be
invoked against him or her. The conclusion (416) is that the Database Directive is
not applicable to a database which is not protected either by copyright or by the sui
generis right, therefore there are no limits to the rightholder’s freedom to lay down
contractual limitations on its use by third parties, because the exceptions provided
by the directive will not apply.
The reasoning is weak for three interwoven reasons. First, Article 1 does not
merely define databases, as held in Ryanair. It expressly deals with the scope of the
directive. Any database in any form will fall within the scope of the directive, as long
as the materials are independent, arranged systematically or methodically, and indi-
vidually accessible. Therefore, since Ryanair’s website falls within the scope, there is
no reason not to recognise the applicability of the provision on the binding nature of
the exceptions. The difficulty of which provision to apply, whether the one on copy-
right or the one on the sui generis right, is only a practical one that could be over-
come for instance finding the highest common denominator between Article 6 and
Article 8, which does not seem complicated since the provisions are indeed quite
similar. A different solution would, indeed, be unreasonable because it would lead
to recognise a stronger protection to those databases where the author did not put
in place any intellectual effort or any meaningful investment. Moreover, the main
justification of the Database Directive is to stimulate investments in the database in-
dustry to bridge the gap between the US and the EU market. This goal cannot be
achieved applying Ryanair, because it is in the database makers’ interest not to cre-
(412) Dutch Copyright Act (Auteurswet), Article 24a(1), which corresponds to Article
6(1) of the Database Directive. The Court of Justice does not refer to the homologous provi-
sion applicable to the sui generis right, recognising the lawful user’s right to the insubstantial
extraction and re-utilisation of the contents of the database (Database Directive, Article 8).
(413) Dutch Copyright Act, Article 24a(3), corresponding to Article 15 of the Database
(414) The wording is slightly different even though the content is similar. On the one
hand, there are exceptions to the database copyright (Article 6), on the other hand, rights and
obligations of the lawful user of databases covered by sui generis right (Article 8).
, cit., para. 28.
, cit., para. 49.
AIDA 2018
ate original databases and not to invest significantly in obtaining, verifying, and pre-
senting contents. Thus, they will outside the scope of the Database Directive and
will be able to restrict the users’ rights without limits. While arguably Ryanair makes
of contracts the key tool to protect databases, database makers should be wary of
the intrinsic limitations of contract law, the main being the principle of privity
(417). As a rule, obligations cannot be imposed on those who are not party to a
contract; therefore, once extracted, the further dissemination of the information
from third parties cannot be prevented (418).
It is important to keep in mind Ryanair when analysing British Horseracing and
Fixtures Marketing, which will be done in section 5 below. Suffice it to say that the
trend towards the narrowing of the scope of the Database Directive may have the
unforeseen outcome of worsening the problem of the monopolisation of infor-
mation and raw data, which can be easily achieved if the contractual freedom is
without limits (419). Said trend may be seen as slowed by Verlag Esterbauer and
Apis-Hristovich, whose broad definition of database partly offsets the problems
arising from the joint operation of Ryanair and Fixtures Marketing. A reform of the
Directive should, therefore, either clarify and broaden its scope of application or
move the provisions on the exceptions in Chapter 4 on the common provisions
(420). More ambitious plans may involve a harmonisation of contract law, that may
focus on intellectual property contracts or encompass the main principles of con-
tract law, now that with Brexit there is more homogeneity between the contract law
traditions of the Member States.
All this is relevant also from an AI perspective. Indeed, since AI databases are
unlikely to be considered original and to be protected by a sui generis right, as will
be clarified below, this means that there is an incentive for database owners to in-
vest in AI databases rather than in traditional ones because the former will be pro-
tected more strongly by means of contracts (421) and TPMs (422). The European
Commission, in its evaluation of the Database Directive, observed that “the sui gen-
eris right is generally ignored in contractual frameworks” (423). However, this
(417) Privity is a common law principle, but similar concepts are present in most jurisdic-
tions, as expression of the principle
res inter alios acta aliis nec nocet nec prodest
. See, recent-
The principle of relative effect of contracts. A historical view and aspects of
comparative law
, in
Challenges of the Knowledge Society
2018, XII, 292.
Ryanair Ltd v. PR Aviation BV: contracts, rights and users in a low
cost database law,
Kluwer Copyright Blog,
26 January 2015, available at
(419) Cf. Commission,
, cit., 25 where it is stated that “the reduced scope may
come under pressure in the future, potentially producing unexpected results in relation to ma-
chine- and sensor-generated ‘big data’”.
Legal annex
, cit., 117. As pointed out by
op. cit
., para. 184, the legislature could “promote access through unwaivable excep-
tions and limitation as part of a comprehensive legislation of data ownership”.
(421) In terms, Drexl, op. cit., para 42, who underlines that “factual control over data
can enable the data holder to commercialise that data without additional legal protection by re-
lying on contract law”.
(422) Ivi, para. 183.
(423) Commission,
cit., 17.
should not be interpreted as meaning that contracts are not playing a key role in the
data propertisation, but only that the “the sui generis right does not seem to be
widely used as a licensing tool” (424).
In conclusion, the powerful players of the data economy are commodifying our
data with a multi-pronged strategy whose main elements are uncircumventable
TPM (425), as well as Terms of Service and privacy policies that most people do
not read, let alone understand or negotiate (426). The contractual limitations pro-
vided by the Database Directive, therefore, may play a vital role in better balancing
the competing interests of the database industry and of the public.
8. The conclusions of this paper are fourfold. First, in order to grasp AI data-
bases it is pivotal to understand that AI is an umbrella term encompassing a number
of different technologies, where the degree of autonomy and ‘intelligence’ varies
greatly. General or strong AI has not been achieved yet, but AI applications become
increasingly refined and complex, therefore exploring proper AI works is no longer
a work of science fiction, but one of the most pressing issues that intellectual prop-
erty lawyers are urged to grapple with.
Second, AI is a formidable engine for text and data mining activities which, in
turn, are playing a crucial role in the advancement of the database industry and of
research worldwide. Existing copyright exceptions may cover some steps of the
mining process, but overall are not fit for purpose and can be circumvented by con-
tracts. The EU reform of copyright in the Digital Single Market, currently in the
trilogue phase, provides a text and data mining exception that, unfortunately, is too
weak of an attempt, especially because it is limited to research organisms and re-
search purposes. The fact that data mining may not always have a legal basis does
not mean, however, that the resulting database would not be protected under the
Database Directive, should the relevant requirements be met.
Third, current EU copyright laws as interpreted by the Court of Justice do not
allow copyright on AI works, including databases. The main, although not only,
hurdle is the originality conundrum. Originality means that the work must be the
author’s own intellectual creation. With AI works, if one considers the human as the
author, it cannot be said it is the latter’s own intellectual creation, because they
could not impress their personal touch on the work (427). The AI itself cannot be
considered as author, let alone owner, mainly stemming from issues of lack of per-
sonality that seem far from being resolved. This, alongside other arguments, is the
basis of the firm conviction that AI works should receive a low protection that could
take the form of the sui generis right.
Finally, and more importantly, contrary to popular belief, AI databases can be
(424) Ibid..
(425) See COLSTON,
Protecting Databases – A call for regulation
, 2007, IXX, 85.
(426) See, e.g., NOTO LA DIEGA,
Uber law and awareness by design. An empirical study
on online platforms and dehumanised negotiations
, in
Revue européenne de droit de la con-
2016, II, 383 ff., and DUCATO,
House of Terms: Fixing the Information Paradigm
with Legal Design
, in
2018, Aberdeen, 10-11 April 2018.
(427) This paper build on the conviction the machine-generated works are not the same
thing as AI works.
AIDA 2018
covered by a sui generis right. AI is likely to lead to a renovated, and perhaps un-
precedented, importance of the sui generis right as the preferential form of protec-
tion for AI works. Indeed, AI works, not in themselves copyrightable, could be pro-
tected if organised in a database. The contestation that the sui generis right is not fit
for AI is not based on the directive, but on the restrictive interpretation that the
Court of Justice gave to its scope in its 2004 rulings. Those rulings were based on
the wrong assumption that there is a dichotomy between creating data and obtain-
ing data, whereas this distinction no longer holds in the data economy where the
binary between creating and obtaining data has long been disrupted, as shown by
how data mining works. The sterilising effect of the 2004 ruling may be reduced by
the overcoming of the common misunderstanding that the court introduced a spin-
off theory interpreted as meaning that if making databases is not the main activity of
a company (by-product databases), then this database is not covered by a sui gene-
ris right. In fact, spin-off databases can also be protected if the owner proves a sub-
stantial investment, quantitatively or qualitatively. AI is a flexible tool and lends itself
for the optimisation of the processes of obtaining, verifying, and presenting con-
tents. It seems particularly likely that if there is a substantial investment in an AI ap-
plication developed for the setting up of a database, the latter will be covered by a
sui generis right.
In conclusion, countering the narrow interpretation of the scope of the Data-
base Directive given by the Court of Justice may have three positive consequences.
First, it would provide a form of protection to AI works otherwise in the public do-
main, thus striking a balance between the interests to the commercialisation of AI
works and to the access to knowledge. Second, it would reduce the negative conse-
quences of Ryanair, which allowed the abuse of contracts to achieve over-protection
of data and databases. Those who feared that the sui generis right would have led to
a disastrous monopolisation of information cannot but notice that in the data econ-
omy, the propertisation of data is the combined effect of contracts, TPMs, and
trade secrets, which are leading to an overprotection of data. Third, it would nip in
the bud unfortunate proposals of a new data producer’s right, that would no longer
be necessary – if it ever was – because the sui generis right would provide a suffi-
cient protection. Therefore, instead of the abolition of the Database Directive, there
are strong arguments to relaunch the sui generis right, which thanks to AI will even-
tually abandon the peripheries of the intellectual property realm.
This paper deals with those databases where Artificial Intelligence technologies
are used to obtain, verify, or present the database’s contents (‘AI databases’). The
overarching research question is whether AI databases can be protected under the
copyright and sui generis regimes provided by the Database Directive. The alleged
inadequacy of the sui generis right for the data economy and, in particular, for ma-
chine-generated data led the European Parliament to call on the Commission to
abolish said right and the Commission to propose the introduction of a data pro-
ducer’s right as a new property that would have done what the sui generis right had
been unable to. It is this paper’s contention that, contrary to popular belief, the sui
generis right is fit for AI databases and that a different solution would lead to an
overprotection of said subject matter by contractual means. The sui generis right
may be the best, if not the only, way to protect AI ‘authorial’ works. Indeed, even if
AI works currently fall outside the scope of copyright law for lack of originality,
they could nonetheless be protected if part of a database. Thus, thanks to AI, the sui
generis right may become more important than it ever was.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
) Fixtures Marketing v OPAP, cit
  • Cit Dufour
Dufour, cit., para. 107. (86) Fixtures Marketing v OPAP, cit., paras. 31-32.
372) Ivi, para. 51. (373) In the lack of ad-hoc guidance, it is suggested to keep in mind that the main purpose of the sui generis right is to promote investment
  • Compass-Datenbank
(371) Compass-Datenbank, cit., para. 53. (372) Ivi, para. 51. (373) In the lack of ad-hoc guidance, it is suggested to keep in mind that the main purpose of the sui generis right is to promote investment, not simply to reward it; therefore, any abusive conduct that would "clearly contravene the stated purpose of the database right would
The current version of the Terms & Conditions, as updated on 5 September 2018, no longer contains such provisions. See Ryanair General Terms & Conditions of Carriage
  • I Pace
  • Comunicazioni Di Repertoriazione E Superdominanza
, I, 11273. See Pace, Comunicazioni elettroniche, servizio di repertoriazione e superdominanza, in Europa e diritto privato 2006, 851. (409) Ryanair, cit., 312. (410) Cf. CASPERS and GUIBAULT, Baseline Report of Policies and Barriers of TDM in Europe, Future TDM, Wien, 2016, 9. (411) The current version of the Terms & Conditions, as updated on 5 September 2018, no longer contains such provisions. See Ryanair General Terms & Conditions of Carriage, available at
The relationship between copyright and contract law, Intellectual Property Office Research Paper No. 2010/4, and, more recently
  • Derclaye Kretschmer
  • Favale Watt
For more information on this see, e.g., KRETSCHMER, DERCLAYE, FAVALE, and WATT, The relationship between copyright and contract law, Intellectual Property Office Research Paper No. 2010/4, and, more recently, ARONSSON-STORRIER, op. loc. ult. cit.. (301) InfoSoc Directive, recital 33.
BONADIO and SANTO, Communication to the Public" in FAPL v QC Leisure and Murphy v Media Protection Services (C-403/08 and C-429/08), in EIPR 2012, 277 ff., GIETZELT and UNGERER, Die urheberrechtliche Dimension des Internetbrowsens und Caching
  • Cit . Infopaq
  • Court
  • Justice
Court of Justice 5 June 2014, Public Relations Consultants Association v Newspaper Licensing Agency, case C-360/13, in this Journal, 2014, 1591, Infopaq, cit.., and Court of Justice 4 October 2011, Football Association Premier League v QC Leisure, case C-403/08, in ECR, 2011, I, 9083. See ALBERTI, Radiodiffusione via satellite e clausole di esclusiva territoriale: note a margine di CEG, 4 ottobre 2011, in Europa e diritto privato 2012, 256, BONADIO and SANTO, Communication to the Public" in FAPL v QC Leisure and Murphy v Media Protection Services (C-403/08 and C-429/08), in EIPR 2012, 277 ff., GIETZELT and UNGERER, Die urheberrechtliche Dimension des Internetbrowsens und Caching, in Zeitschrift für Gemeinschaftsprivatrecht 2014, 278 ff.. (303) Triaille, de Meeûs d'Argenteuil, and de Francquen, op. loc. ult. cit.. (304) Infopaq, cit., para. 54. (305) Triaille, de Meeûs d'Argenteuil, and de Francquen, op. cit., 31-32.