The Proposed (and Rejected) WIPO Treaty

In December 1996, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) introduced a draft of a treaty designed to protect investments in databases. Certain definitions and provisions are very similar to EU Directive 96/9/EC: “database” means a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and capable of being individually accessed by electronic or other means; “substantial investment” means any qualitatively or quantitatively significant investment of human, financial, technical or other resources in the collection, assembly, verification, organization or presentation of the contents of the database; and “substantial part”, in reference to the contents of a database, means any portion of the database, including an accumulation of small portions, that is of qualitative or quantitative significance to the value of the database. In addition, the exclusionary rights provided to the database maker is quite broad: “The maker of a database eligible for protection under this Treaty shall have the right to authorize or prohibit the extraction or utilization of its contents.”

The draft was met with substantial opposition, both from academics and from developoing countries, both of which groups rely to a large extent on free access to data, and both of which feared that the Draft provisions would unacceptably restrict access to facts. The Draft was not adopted in the session, and while the topic of database protection remains a discussion topic on WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, no international treaty specific to databases has been adopted.