Football DataCo loses again

Some more good news from the courts.

Football DataCo has lost its latest case in the ECJ relating to their efforts to protect football fixture lists.

This has been going on and on for years, and when it all began I took a close interest due to my job at the time managing IP for a big newspaper group which wanted to use fixture lists but didn’t see why it should pay for providing millions of pounds worth of publicity.

In the original case DataCo was claiming that anybody who wanted to use football fixture lists, or information from them, needed a licence, because the lists were a database and therefore covered by database rights.

The ECJ, in 2004, disagreed and said that database rights did not apply in the way that DataCo claimed. This was important quite broadly because it, quite rightly in my view, effectively set quite a high bar for database rights protection.

This caused some problems for a number of sports who had built their commercial model on being able to licence data to, in particular, betting companies.

Prior to the judgement it was generally accepted that database rights applied to almost anything (at one stage I remember claims that the names and numbers of players were protected and couldn’t be used without a licence).

DataCo, always chipper, decided that despite the ruling the ECJ was still wrong and so they started to start another lawsuit to try to assert their rights again, this time claiming copyright instead of database rights. This always seemed rather tenuous to me, because the amount of creativity and originality involved in writing a list of teams, dates and venues doesn’t seem huge.

They sued a number of people including Yahoo who, to their credit given that this is hardly their core business, saw it through. Amazingly the ECJ took the case for a second time. And last week they rejected it.

There may be many in sport wailing about this because it is the ambition of most sporting bodies to claim a share of any money anybody makes from any activity linked with their sport, and this makes that a lot harder.

Betting, in particular, provides an important revenue stream for many sports which is only possible if the sport can find a legal basis for making a charge (or, of course, by negotiation, since both sides have something to lose as well as gain from the other).

However it’s good news for common sense. If the law makes such small fragments of factual information licensable it is seriously altering the balance of IP laws which have always done quite well at protecting creativity while leaving facts unfettered.

So, three cheers for this ruling and a big pat on the back for the litigants who were dragged through it by DataCo and who saw it through.


Disclosure: In my previous role I was responsible for negotiating with Football DataCo on this and other issues. In my current role I have been involved in negotiating with them about different matters on behalf of media groups.

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