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EU Court Allows Prof’s Database Copyright Claim

LUXEMBOURG (CN) - Europe's highest court allowed a professor at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg to proceed with his claim that Directmedia Publishing copied a significant portion of his database containing "the 1,100 most important poems in German literature between 1730 and 1900."

Professor Knoop spent two and half years compiling a list of the 20,000 most frequently cited poems in 14 anthologies, chosen from about 3,000 anthologies. Knoop's list, published on the Internet, contains the author, title, opening line and year of publication of each poem, and is supplemented by a bibliographic compilation of 50 German-language anthologies. The project cost the university more than $47,500.

In 2002, Directmedia published a CD-ROM called "1,000 Poems Everyone Should Have," which contains 856 of the poems in Knoop's list. Directmedia used Knoop's list a guide for its poem selection, but took the actual texts from its own digital resources. It omitted some poems from the professor's list and added others.

Knoop and the university sued Directmedia, claiming it had infringed on their copyrighted poetry database.

European law provides copyright protection from the "extraction" and/or reuse of substantial portions of a database.

Directmedia said its CD-ROM does not qualify as an extraction, because it drew on other sources and did not physically copy and paste poem titles from Knoop's list.

The court defined an extraction as "any unauthorized act of appropriation of the whole or a part of the contents of a database," adding that this concept "is not dependent on the nature and form of the mode of operation used."

In other words, Directmedia's use of Knoop's list constituted an extraction.

The court also acknowledged that it's legal for anyone to consult databases that have been made available to the public, so long as the user does not copy or reproduce substantial portions of it.

The high court left it up to a lower court to determine whether Directmedia's extraction copied enough of the list to violate the plaintiffs' copyrights.

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