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Singapore: Use of rival directory data not breach of copyright

Data from a directory is not copyrightable, Singapore's Court of Appeal has ruled.27 Apr 2017

Global Yellow Pages had sued rival phone directory Promedia Directories, accusing it of copying from its own online directories. However, the Court of Appeal said that for copyright to apply there must be an author who had applied some creativity in selecting or displaying the data.

"Any such copyright protection would extend only to the original expression in the form of the selection or arrangement of data or material, but not to the composite parts of the compilation; that is to say, it would not extend to the facts or data contained therein," the judgment said.

Copyright did not subsist in the individual listings, it said, and the form of expression was unoriginal.

GYP had alleged that Promedia copied from three printed directories and the online internet Yellow Pages from 2003 to 2009.

The Singapore High Court dismissed the entire claim last year and allowed Promedia to make a counterclaim over the threats. GYP then appealed to the Appeals Court.

Intellectual property expert Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay, the Singapore joint venture partner of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind said Singapore does not have the same 'database rights' as the European Union, which protects businesses that make a substantial investment in the way data is structured and organised even if the information itself is devoid of the traits required for copyright protection.

"During the Copyright Act consultations last year, there was some discussion of allowing the use of data analytics on databases by way of an express exemption in copyright legislation," Tan said.

EU copyright law contains specific rules treating databases as a class of literary works, but copyright law alone cannot offer protection to database creators where the database contains facts, as facts in and of themselves are not necessarily capable of being copyrighted. The EU Database Directive was therefore established as a way of harmonising the law protecting databases so as to encourage the development of database-dependent businesses in the digital age by creating a 'sui generis' database right that can protect certain sets of data that cannot qualify for copyright protection. Only if database creators have invested sufficient time, money and skill into developing their database will those creations be protected by database rights. Databases that arise as a by-product of doing business do not attract database right protection.

In 2014 the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) said that said that operators of aggregator websites in the EU that allow users to search for content on other sites and then display the information on their own site may be in breach of content owners' database rights.