Sui generis database rights


Last updated 30 January 2021

Sui generis database rights in the UK

There are two types of intellectual property protection for databases: sui generis database rights (or just ‘database rights’) and copyright. Both are automatic, unregistered rights that allow the owner to control certain uses of their databases.

Copyright protects the selection or arrangement of material in a database where this is original (i.e. creative). Database rights protect the contents of a database. A database does not have to be original for it to qualify for database rights, but there needs to have been a substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the data.

Database rights were first introduced by the EU Database Directive. Eligible databases received protection in all European Economic Area (EEA) member states and included the UK when it was a member of the EU. The UK implemented the directive through the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997.

Since leaving the EU the reciprocal recognition for new database rights between the EU and UK has ceased. However, the UK and EU agreed to continue the reciprocal recognition where those rights had already been awarded, i.e. UK databases created before 1 January 2021 will continue to be protected in the EU and vice-versa. Only UK citizens, residents, and businesses are eligible for database rights in the UK for databases created on or after 1 January 2021.

Sui generis database rights in the EU

Under the EU Database Directive eligible databases receive protection in all European Economic Area (EEA) member states. Only databases made by EEA nationals, residents or businesses are eligible.

UK citizens, residents, and businesses are not eligible to receive or hold database rights in the EEA for databases created on or after 1 January 2021.

UK owners of databases created on or after 1 January 2021 should consider whether they can rely on alternative means of protection in the EEA – for example licensing agreements or copyright, where applicable.

Existing sui generis database rights

Database rights that existed in the UK or EEA before 1 January 2021 (whether held by UK or EEA persons or businesses) will continue to exist in the UK and EEA for the rest of their duration. These rights are guaranteed under the Withdrawal Agreement.

Those in the UK who wish to use databases protected by these rights need the permission of the right holder(s).

Copyright protection for databases in the UK and EEA will not change after 1 January 2021.

The UK and all EEA member states are members of international treaties on copyright that ensure eligible works (e.g. databases that are original) are protected in all treaty countries. This does not depend on the UK’s relationship with the EU or EEA.

First published 26 November 2020