Wednesday 30 June 2021

OpenStreetMap identifies catastrophic effect of Brexit on database right

The Guardian today reports that the open-source mapping project OpenStreetMap, described as "Wikipedia-for-maps", is contemplating relocating from the UK to somewhere that is still in the EU. Although there seem to be manifold reasons, one of them (and I should have thought a pretty important one) is the fact that databases of UK origin will no longer enjoy protection in EU27.

What we know (and possibly love) as database right in the UK is, of course, a creature of EU law. Actually, it's old enough to be EC law: Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council 96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases, implemented by the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997, SI 1997 No 3032. Those regulations were amended in 2003 and further amended in the blizzard of secondary legislation that was caused by Brexit, by the Intellectual Property (Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, SI 2019 No 605 (Regulation 28 is the place to look, if you are interested). I wrote about all this not long ago, here, but it bears repeating in this new context.

The amendments are not complicated, although it takes a lot of legislative verbiage to convey what they are doing: where the original legislation mentioned the EEA, it now refers to the UK. This means that where previously a connection with the EEA (being a national of an EEA Member State, or incorporated in one, or habitually resident in one - I am going from memory here, so please check the legislation if it's important for you) meant your database qualified for protection in the UK, from now on (for databases created after IP completion day, as 11pm on 31 December 2020 is called - "completion" being a form of Newspeak and actually denoting something very different) you have to show the same connection with the UK. For databases created before IP completion day, protection continues on the old basis and for the original term, but I imagine that will cause all kinds of interesting problems when the proprietor finds it convenient to argue that there has been a substantial change in the database such that protection can start running again - only to find that it potentially means the database no longer qualifies for protection.

Anyway, that's the other side of the OpenStreetMap coin. What OSM are worried about is the treatment of databases of UK origin in the EEA, and of course with the UK no longer being in the EEA, UK databases (if I may call them that) no longer enjoy the protection of the sui generis right created by the Directive. Pre-existing databases will still be protected, by virtue of Article 58 of the Withdrawal Agreement, but given the nature of databases that is a wasting asset. Arguably, the OSM database is a pre-existing one and (the OpenStreetMap Foundation being incorporated in England) it therefore enjoys continuing protection, but the term is only 15 years: the saving grace, for database makers, is that a substantial change to the database "which would result in the database being considered to be a substantial new investment" qualifies the resulting database for protection. Never having had to think about it particularly before, I had reduced that rule to "a substantial new investment in the database keeps the 15 term running", but clearly that is too simplistic: in fact, a substantial new investment means you have a new database which is protected for 15 years, and that makes it abundantly clear why OpenStreetMap are unhappy.


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