Appeal allowed in database case

William Hill succeeds in establishing no rights in sporting fixture lists

The Court of Appeal today gave judgment in the long running British Horse Racing Board v William Hill case.

The case concerned database rights – a relatively new form of intellectual property that derives from a European Directive and was introduced into the UK in 1998 by the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997.

The British Horse Racing Board, the UK governing body for horse racing, maintained that it had a database right in the official lists of runners and riders it produces for each race.  BHB claimed that William Hill had infringed its rights by using unlicensed that information on the William Hill website.

The High Court had held in 2001 that there had been infringement but later that year the case was referred to the European Court of Justice by the UK Court of Appeal who had asked the European Court for guidance on a number of questions concerning interpretation of the European Database Directive.

A database right only subsists in databases in which there has been “a substantial investment in either the obtaining, verification or presentation of the contents”. One of the questions referred to the ECJ was precisely what ‘obtaining’ and ‘verification’ meant in this context.   The ECJ held that this investment related only to the resources used to seek out existing independent materials and collect them in the database, and not to the resources used for the creation of independent materials.

Today the Court of Appeal found in favour of William Hill and applied the ECJ ruling, holding that in creating official lists the BHB were creating independent materials. The BHB lists were thus not covered by the database right. The BHB argument that collecting together the intentions of owners to race (provisional and declared) amounted to collection of independent materials was rejected.

This decision has serious consequences for the racing industry which is currently funded by a levy system under which bookmakers return a proportion profits to the racing industry. The BHB had hoped to sell such data to fund the industry in place of the levy system which is to be abolished.

In a press release, William Hill confirmed it was ‘pleased’ about the verdict and commented “Whilst any future litigation remains at the call of the BHB, William Hill hope that the racing industry will now look forward to developing a valid alternative for the future funding of racing.”

Click here for the 5RB case report and judgment.