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Document 31996L0009

Legal protection: databases

Legal protection: databases



Directive 96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases


It seeks to provide legal protection for databases* which has two aspects:

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



The directive:

  • applies to databases, irrespective of their form (e.g. electronic (online) or non-electronic (offline));
  • does not apply to the software used in the making or operation of the database or to the works and materials it contains.

It does not affect the legal rules covering notably patents, trade marks, designs and models or unfair competition.


  • A database will be protected by copyright if the selection or arrangement of its contents constitute the creator's own intellectual creation.
  • 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 carry out the restricted acts that are necessary for using the database, subject to certain restrictions.
  • Other exceptions are also envisaged (e.g. illustration for teaching or scientific research).

Sui generis rights

  • In addition to the copyright arrangements, the directive lays down a set of sui generis arrangements so that the creator of a database can prohibit the unauthorised extraction and/or reuse of its contents.
  • Sui generis rights are economic rights and as such can be transferred, assigned or granted under contractual licence.
  • Lawful users may extract and reuse, without authorisation, non-substantial parts of the contents of a database. However, they may not carry out acts that unreasonably harm the legitimate interests of the creator of the database or of a person providing the works or services it contains.
  • Other exceptions are also foreseen (e.g. illustration for teaching or scientific research).
  • The right to prevent the unauthorised extraction and/or reuse 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 completed.
  • Protection against unauthorised extraction or reuse is granted to databases whose creator is an EU national, a company or a business resident in or having its registered office, central administration or principal place of business in the EU.


It has applied since 16 April 1996 and it had to become law in the EU countries by 31 December 1997.


There have been two evaluations of the directive, one in 2005 and one in 2018.

For more information, see:


Database: a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means.
Sui generis right: a property right, similar to but distinct from copyright. It exists to recognise the substantial investment that is made in obtaining, verification or presentation of the contents of a database, even when this does not involve the creative aspect that is reflected by copyright.


Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases (OJ L 77, 27.3.1996, pp. 20-28)

last update 11.01.2019