IDG News Service - Draft legislation that would strengthen some copyright-like protections on the contents of commercial databases met with skepticism from members of two U.S. House subcommittees Tuesday, despite proponents' claims that creators of databases need more protection against competitors pilfering the information after all the hard work has been done.
The Database and Collections of Information Misappropriations Act, yet to be introduced in the House, would allow owners of commercial databases to sue anyone who sells portions of their databases if those databases contain time-sensitive material and the owner incurred a "substantial" cost when generating or maintaining the material. But opponents of the draft bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Association of American Universities, questioned the need for a new law, with some saying existing copyright and other laws already protect most databases.
"We have the benefit of contract, intellectual property, copyright, state misappropriation, trespass and federal computer antihijacking statutes and numerous other protections that are on the books," testified Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, during a congressional hearing. "This is a solution in search of a problem, and we ought to be very careful about that."
But others argued that current U.S. law, particularly copyright law, is weak in protecting the sometimes noncreative work that goes into gathering and maintaining a database. A new law is needed to protect the "immeasurable" value that exists in databases owned by U.S. companies against "free riders" that would take that information, said Keith Kupferschmid, vice president of intellectual property policy and enforcement at the Software and Information Industry Association.
Although Donohue questioned whether there was a groundswell of support for new database legislation, Kupferschmid listed at least four recent court cases where the owners of databases lost lawsuits to competitors using their information without permission. In one case, he said, a competitor copied close to three-quarters of a company's school information database and posted the information on the Internet, helping to drive the original database owner out of the database business.
"With the Internet and advances in new technology, databases can be easily stolen and made available to others," said Kupferschmid, testifying for the Coalition Against Database Piracy, a coalition of database producers. "Clearly, there is a definite and significant need for database protection legislation."
The draft legislation could give database creators incentives to keep producing new products, added Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.
"In cyberspace, technological developments represent a threat as well as
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