Spatial data and applications play an ever-increasing part in our economy and in our society in general, but the protection of spatial databases by intellectual property rights seems to be a challenge because the Internet and information technology have caused a considerable increase in the copying of data, maps, route descriptions, hiking trails, etc. The illegal copying of spatial data, however, has caused the data producers to turn to several means of protection, such as intellectual property legislation, unfair competition, confidentiality and privacy. This paper begins by determining what is meant by spatial data. Thereafter, the paper reflects on the protection of maps by copyright in the European Union and the United States, both as pictorial representations and as compilations. In the European Union, a solution to the problem might be found in the protection of databases by the sui generis database right, but the curtailing of this right by the European Court of Justice, may have jeopardized the creation of spatial data itself. In the U.S., there is no such thing as a database right, even though the idea has been on the legislator’s table more than once, but case law may provide data producers some protection. For instance, Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co. stated that spatial databases may be protected by copyright if they show a minimum level of creativity. The paper, thereafter, examines the consequences for copyright protection of the transfer from analogue to digital maps and spatial databases. Finally the paper addresses the sui generis database right, which is the European solution for protection of spatial databases that do not meet the criteria for copyright protection.
Katleen Janssen & Jos Dumortier, The Protection of Maps and Spatial Databases in Europe and the United States by Copyright and the Sui Generis Right, 24 J. Marshall J. Computer & Info. L. 195 (2006)