I have recently created a map showing the number of books published per year per capita by country in Europe. The figures in the map are partially (less than a half of them) based on data included in a report by the International Publisher Association. I have received a claim, which I consider rather ridiculous, by the person who collected the data for the report; he claims that the map I made is subject to the Association’s copyright. Is such a claim valid?
First, it should be noted that in most parts of the world (including the U.S.), ideas, procedures, and statistical data that can be independently retrieved or replicated (i.e. which are not specific to the subjective viewpoint of their creators) are not subject to copyright (but may be subject to patent laws in certain cases, but this doesn’t really apply to freely available statistical reports).
The EU Database Directive
The situation is slightly more complicated in the European Union, where the so-called EU Database Directive applies, which specifically provides copyright protection to databases. How is a database defined? The directive says:
This is further explained by:
In other words, the piece of data themselves are NOT subject to copyright (of course, unless the data already consists of copyrighted material, such as copyrighted images; nevertheless, no-one can copyright a number); it is only the database itself (i.e. the way in which the data are collected and presented) that is subject to the directive.
A set of numbers is not copyrightable, unless it is arranged or selected in a certain creative way. If I had copied the table itself as it was presented in the report, that would have been questionable, but claiming that putting a bunch of publicly available figures over a blank map violates someone’s copyright is ridiculous.
In fact, they should be happy I used their compilation as a source (which I cited properly in the article) and provided publicity they would otherwise not get. I could have as well just Google the primary sources and simply ignore the report by the IPA, which I have actually done in several cases to check whether the data were correct.
Furthermore, the European directive defines several fair use principles, just like ordinary copyright laws do. The directive specifically says that
Since this is an educational website and I made the map for the purpose of education of my readers, even if the data themselves were copyrighted (which we have already established is not the case), my use would still count as fair use.
The weird thing about the fair-use part is that it is not mandatory for member countries to adopt it. I’ve read that most EU countries have adopted it, but I cannot find any details as to where it doesn’t hold at the moment. I am wondering what practical consequences this inconsistency may have.