European law firm Fieldfisher has advised Ordnance Survey, Britain's mapping agency, in connection with the UK Government's submissions to the Court of Justice of the European Union for a case which potentially had huge implications for the mapping industry.
In Freistaat Bayern v Verlag Esterbauer GmbH, a German case which escalated to the CJEU, the court was ultimately deciding whether geographical data extracted from a topographic map, in order for a third party to produce and market another map, would retain, after extraction, sufficient informative value to be held to be "independent materials" of a "database" within the meaning of that provision. The decision would determine whether printed and digital topographic maps fell within the definition of a database under Article 1(2) of the EU Database Directive. The directive defines a database as "a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means."
Until the CJEU's ruling, however, the phrase had mainly been interpreted in the context of sporting fixtures, and the question of whether topographic maps constituted a database under EU law had not been considered.
Verlag Esterbauer GmbH is an Austrian publishing house which publishes guidebooks, maps and atlases which contain maps for walkers and cyclists, for example. Freistaat Bayern (The State of Bavaria), which publishes topographic maps covering the entire federal state, successfully sought an injunction from Verlag, believing that the company had made unlawful use of its maps and appropriated the underlying data in order to produce the material for its own maps. The dispute escalated through Germany's courts and was eventually broadened to include the claims that Verlag's maps infringed Freistaat Bavaria's rights under Article 1(2) of the EU Database Directive.
Nick Rose, head of Fieldfisher's Intellectual Property and Technology Litigation Group, said:
"This is a very significant ruling. Had the CJEU found that topographic maps were not covered in the definition of a database under the EU Database Directive than the case could have had unintended consequences for the ways in which digital maps and data are produced, used and commercially exploited. Thankfully, though, this decision shows an understanding of how modern maps are produced, as well as the autonomous informative value of the materials making up topographic maps."
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