In Ryanair Ltd v PR Aviation BV, the Court of Justice of the European Union ("CJEU") ruled that where a database is not protected by copyright or "sui generis" right under the Directive (EC) 96/9 ("Database Directive"), the author of the database is not restricted from laying down contractual limitations on its use by third parties.
PR Aviation operates a flight price comparison website which allows consumers to search flight data, compare prices and on payment of commission, book a flight.
To obtain the necessary information PR Aviation’s website extracted information using an automated system linked to the Ryanair website, otherwise known as ‘screen scraping’. In order to access flight information from the website Ryanair required all users to accept its terms and conditions which at the material time included:
- Limiting exclusive distribution of Ryanair’s services to Ryanair.com;
- Only permitting use of the website for private, non-commercial purposes; and
- Prohibiting ‘screen scraping’ for commercial purposes unless the third party had a written licence agreement with Ryanair permitting access to flight information for the purpose of price comparison.
Ryanair claimed that PR Aviation had infringed its rights relating to its dataset and had breached its website terms and conditions.
Relying on the Database Directive, PR Aviation argued that if the database corresponded to the definition set out in the Database Directive then they were permitted to access and use the database information from the website, and Ryanair could not contractually exclude them from doing so.
The Database Directive concerns the legal protection of databases via (i) copyright – which protects the structure of the database, and (ii) a "sui generis" or "database" right – which protects the contents of the database where there has been a substantial investment in either obtaining, verifying or presenting those contents.
Under the Database Directive a lawful user of the protected database is given broad rights to access and use the contents of the database where it is publically available (under Articles 6(1) and 8(1)), and any contractual provisions attempting to exclude these rights are null and void (Article 15). Consequently, PR Aviation argued that the Database Directive permitted them to use Ryanair’s database as they had been, and Ryanair’s terms restricting screen scraping could not apply.
The CJEU held that Ryanair’s database did not qualify for protection under the Database Directive since it was not covered by either copyright nor database right, and consequently none of the Directive’s Articles 6, 18 and 15 applied. This meant that Ryanair’s terms of website use took effect in the normal way and had been infringed by PR Aviation’s screen scraping activities.