House Panel Approves Database Protection Bill

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property voted 10-4 Thursday afternoon to approve legislation to prohibit the misappropriation of commercial databases. The measure now goes to the full committee.

No comparable legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

The Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act of 2003 (H.R. 3261), sponsored by Howard Coble (R.-N.C.), allows database owners to sue in civil court for damages arising from the theft of the information and represents, according to Coble, a compromise effort to create a balance where the interests of users and producers of databases.

Various versions of the legislation have kicked around Congress for the last eight years with opponents, which include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and college and university libraries, contending other laws on the books provide remedies for database owners.

Thursday those same objections were raised by Democrats on the subcommittee.

“This is the classic solution in search of a problem,” said Rep. Rick Boucher (D.-Va.), who introduced several amendments to the bill that were all defeated.

Boucher sought to exempt libraries from the penalty provisions of the bill and also wanted an amendment that would not allow database owners from using the bill to protect legal materials produced by courts.

He also attempted to exempt Internet service providers (ISPs) from liability if misappropriated information from databases was transmitted over ISP networks. Supporters of the bill promised to work with Boucher on the ISP liability provision before the legislation reaches the full committee.

Coble says the bill allows a party to take a substantial part of any collection of information for private use, including scientific study or library research. According to Coble, it is only when use leads to material market harm that any liability might accrue.

“In fact, the major changes made to this legislation were to accommodate further the concerns of these communities by providing for fair use type privileges in the context of database protection,” Coble said in introducing the bill.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Tex.), chairman of the subcommittee, agreed with Coble in his support of the bill.

“Databases require substantial investments of time, personnel and money. Information companies must dedicate resources to gathering and verifying factual material, presenting it in a user-friendly way, and keeping it current,” Smith said. “In cyberspace, technological developments represent a threat as well as an opportunity for collections of information. Digitally copying factual material from a third party’s collection, and using it to form a competing information product is cheaper and easier than ever.”

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