by Adv. Shemer Sendak and Maital Ben-Baruch
The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has recently ruled on a groundbreaking case that may shake the rug under the feet of many websites. Ryanair, an Irish low-cost airline, has waged war these past few years against several price comparison websites which screen-scrape its website. In the most recent case against PR Aviation, the CJEU supported Ryanair’s argument that owners of an online database such as Ryanair’s can use contractual restrictions to prevent the copying or use of data posted on their websites.
The ability to stop another entity from using the information which a company posts on its website is fundamental to the operation of the Internet, and so this ruling is expected to change the business models of many websites. Although time is of the essence when planning the launch of a website, one must keep in mind that even though websites are virtual, an international verdict against it is substantial. Therefore, before launching an online business, one should make sure its model does not contradict the laws and legislation in the countries in which it operates. Since websites are not limited to a certain jurisdiction and act in a global arena, the legal analysis is usually done on an international level.
In the past few years, European courts have deliberated on many cases, trying to apply old laws to a new changing world. Electronic databases for example, as opposed to physical databases, are viewed differently by the various courts. The UK Court has yet to establish guiding principles specific for electronic databases, however it has recently ruled that information held in such a database does not constitute property which someone can exercise possession of. The European Parliament on the other hand, addressed this lacuna and legislated a directive specific to databases. In a nutshell, according to the directive, databases are protected by copyright if “the selection or arrangement of their contents constitute the author’s own intellectual creation”. While copyright protects the creativity of an author, database rights protect the investment of time, money and skill in the creation of a database. Israeli and US laws inadvertently protect databases as copyrighted compilations, though they do not have specific, direct propriety right provisions regarding databases.