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Legal protection: databases

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Legal protection: databases

This directive aims to provide harmonised copyright protection to databases. It introduces a new specific sui generis right for the creators of databases, whether or not these have an intrinsically innovative nature.


Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases.



This directive applies to databases, irrespective of their form (e.g. electronic or print media).

The Directive defines a database as "a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means".

The Directive does not apply to the software used in the making or operation of the database or to the works and materials contained therein. Nor does it affect the legal provisions covering patents, marks, designs and models or unfair competition.


The objective of the Directive is to provide:

  • copyright protection for the intellectual creation involved in the selection and arrangement of materials;
  • sui generis protection for an investment (financial and in terms of human resources, effort and energy) in the obtaining, verification or presentation of the contents of a database.


The protection of the scheme of a database under copyright law as defined by the Agreement on TRIPS is accorded when the scheme constitutes, by virtue of the choice or arrangement of the material, an intellectual creation particular to its author.

The creator of a database enjoys a group of exclusive rights (restricted acts, e.g. reproduction, alteration, distribution, etc.).

The legitimate user of a database may perform all the acts referred to in point 5 that are necessary for using the database, subject to certain restrictions.

Sui generis rights

In addition to the copyright arrangements, provision has also been made for another set of sui generis arrangements. Thus, the creator of a database, whether a natural or legal person, can prohibit the unauthorised retrieval and/or re-use of its contents.

Sui generis rights form pecuniary rights and as such can be transferred, assigned or granted under contractual licence.

A lawful user may retrieve and re-use, without authorization, non-substantial parts of the contents of a database. However, he may not perform acts that unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the maker of the database or of a person providing the works or services contained therein.

The right to prevent the unauthorised retrieval of the contents of a database extends for a period of 15 years with effect from the date on which the creation of the database was terminated.

Protection against unauthorised retrieval or re-use is accorded to databases whose maker is a national, a company or an undertaking resident in or having his/its registered office, central administration or principal place of business in the Community.


With the advent of the information society, the protection of databases assumes an increased importance, given that most services will soon be provided via an electronic database accessible either online or offline. Databases will also have a significant impact on the creation of new multimedia products. Databases should therefore be accorded an appropriate level of protection so as to create an attractive environment for investment while safeguarding users' interests.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 96/9/EC [adoption: codecision COD/1992/0393]



OJ L 77 of 27.03.1996


In December 2005 the European Commission published an evaluation report on database protection at EU level. The aim of the evaluation was to assess the extent to which the policy goals of Directive 96/9/EC had been achieved and, in particular, whether the creation of a special sui generis right has had adverse effects on competition. The evaluation finds that the economic impact of the sui generis right on database production is unproven. However, the European publishing industry, consulted in an online survey (August - September 2005) argued that this form of protection was crucial to the continued success of their activities. In addition, most respondents believed that the sui generis right has brought about legal certainty, reduced the costs associated with the protection of databases, created more business opportunities and facilitated the marketing of databases.

At present, the Commission should gather evidence of the usefulness of sui generis protection. Stakeholders are therefore invited to submit their opinions and provide further information on the economic repercussions of this type of protection.

See also

For more information, see the page dedicated to Copyright and related rights on the European Commission's website.

Last updated: 06.12.2005