In February 1996, aEU directive called "Directive on the legal protection of Databases" was adopted to create a copyright-like 15 year monopoly on databases to "to protect their investment of time, money and effort, irrespective of whether the database is in itself innovative."
Roughly ten years later, the European Commission published an evaluation of the effect this directive has on databases. In their press release from 12 December 2005, they state:
On the basis of the information available, the evaluation finds that the economic impact of the 'sui generis' right on database production is unproven. However, the European publishing industry, consulted in the online survey, argued that 'sui generis' protection is crucial to the continued success of their activities. In addition, most respondents to the online survey believe 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.
So what is going on here?
The evaluation indeed states that in 2004, the EU database production has fallen back to pre-Directive, in other words pre-Internet levels. It also shows that the US database industry, unencumbered by a similar Directive, has grown faster in the same time. Unsurprisingly, the database industry that survived the Directive and can now use it to lock-out competition are arguing wildly in favor of the Directive and its necessity. So the evaluation also says that since undoing the Directive might cause a discussion, it might be better to not touch it.
In essence, the conclusion of the evaluation could be reformulated as:
- "This has harmed our Database industry, but the remaining players like the quiet that not having competition gives them; and they have enough money to be listened to. Additionally, if we undid the Directive, people might lose their faith in the ‘Church of IPR‘ and its most fundamental belief: ‘More Monopoly equals More Innovation.’ We might then have some explaining to do on other Directives, like IPRED2 and the next attempt for software patents that we are going to start sometime soon. So better not touch it."
Now the European Commission is soliciting comments from "stakeholders" until 12 March 2006, a fact that James Boyle celebrates in his article for the Financial Times as a step to sanity. The question is: Will these comments see more recognition than those solicited on software patents, which were essentially ignored?
To do him justice: James Boyle also says that his cheers are limited because "while the report is a dramatic improvement, traces of the Commission’s older predilection for faith-based policy and voodoo economics still remain."
Does anyone still remember the TV show "X-Files"? One indeed cannot help but wonder whether the people behind the Database Directive have this poster on their wall: