Protecting Internet Content Databases by Eric Goldman

5th Annual Recent Developments

Protecting Internet Content Databases

Eric Goldman
Epinions, Inc.

1.         What’s the Problem?

  • Publishers are uploading content databases to the Internet
  • Internet services are generating content about/from their users
  • “Scraping”
  • Competitor poaching and aggregator intervention
  • No US law protects “databases”

2.         Summary

  • Copyright
  • Hot News
  • Contract
  • Trespass/CFAA
  • Technology and Business Model Solutions

3.         Copyright…and its Limits

  • Copyright protects “original works of authorship”
  • Facts and ideas are excluded
  • Compilation copyrights can provide thin database protection for “selection, arrangement and coordination”
  • A few cases find copyrights in data that is the product of judgment (e.g., CDN v. Kapes)

4.         Hot News

  • Most intangible misappropriation doctrines preempted by copyright law
  • Elements
    • Information generated/collected at some expense
    • information is highly time-sensitive
    • defendant’s use free-rides on plaintiff’s efforts
    • defendant’s use directly competes with plaintiff
    • free-riding reduces incentive to create such that existence/quality is substantially threatened
  • Potential examples: news headlines, sports scores, product pricing/availability info, weather info

5.         Contracts

  • Contracts can create synthetic restrictions
    • How data may be used
    • Disclosing data to third parties
  • Must be mandatory, non-leaky clickthrough agreement
    • Succeeded when on the search page (
    • Failed when link at bottom of home page ( or could download software without seeing terms (Specht)
  • Subject to all standard contract defenses
    • Incapacities, unconscionable, public policy

6.         Trespass/Computer Fraud & Abuse Act

  • Protect information by protecting servers
  • Trespass
    • Use/intermeddling
    • Dispossession
    • Notification?
    • Self-help?
  • CFAA
    • Accessing a “protected” computer without authorization (or in excess of authorization)
    • Taking information or causing damage

EF Cultural Travel v. Explorica

7.         Technology and Business Model Solutions

  • Technology
    • Dynamic web pages
    • Password protection
    • Copyright management devices
    • Robot exclusion devices
  • Business model
    • Real time
    • Organization/“meta-data”
    • Co-branding