Table of Contents

    A priori, all the copyright rules are applicable to databases, unless specific provisions were set down by law.


    Copyright applies to the content of the database, i.e. its structure and the way in which the data are arranged and classified.

    Copyright protects the database provided that it is original, i.e. through the selection and arrangement of its contents, it constitutes an intellectual creation unique to its author.

    The work and investments dedicated to selection are not enough to prove originality.

    The choice of criteria for the classification of data into an organised set must not be dictated by technical or logical constraints, but rather the author must demonstrate a freedom of creation in the choice of this organisation, and it must be original.

    For example, a traditional telephone directory is not an original database, as there is only one way of classifying people's addresses and telephone numbers, namely alphabetical order. But a directory may be original, if it classifies people's contact details in an original structure, particularly in accordance with specific criteria (professional directory classifying people according to their specialty, address, etc.).

    Copyright may also apply to the content (the elements) of the database, if these elements are original. For example, if the database is an inventory of sculptures, these sculptures may be protected by copyright, if they are original. This right will belong to the author of the works, whose prior authorisation will be required.

    If the database is not original, the database producer may benefit from sui generis protection, i.e. specific protection for the database.

    Scope of database copyright

    The principles of copyright apply to the database.

    Protection lasts for 70 years from the death of the author.

    The author of the database has the right to prohibit its reproduction (for example, if someone develops a competing database using the same framework), communication to the public, distribution, loan and rental; he also has a moral right to the database.

    Database copyright exceptions

    The legislator provided for exceptions to the exclusive copyright on databases. In these cases, users do not have to obtain prior consent from the author in order to use the database.

    The main exceptions are the following:

    • any act required for the use of the database or access to its content;
    • the copying of a database for private purposes;
    • the use of the database for the purpose of illustrating teaching and scientific research.
    • the reproduction of small fragments of the database for information purposes for news reporting;
    • the incidental reproduction of a database placed in a public area;
    • the free, private communication of a database within the family circle or within the context of school activities.

    Database copyright owner

    The owner of copyright in the database is the natural person who created the database, as with traditional copyright.

    However, by way of derogation from traditional copyright, the property rights to a database created as part of an employment contract (or a statute, for civil servants) are presumed to be transferred to the employer, unless stipulated otherwise. However, the database must have been created in the non-cultural industry and in execution of the duties of an employee (or civil servant) or according to the instructions of the employer. Otherwise, the general rule of copyright applies (the employee must transfer the rights to the employer).

    For databases created under a commission contract, the general rules apply: the creator remains the owner of the rights to the database, unless copyright to the database is expressly transferred to the sponsor.

    Last update
    24 March 2022