Meta search engines could be infringing database rights says EU

The courts search for an answer on meta engines

Website operators in the EU that allow users to search for content on the web and display it on their own pages may be in breach of intellectual property laws, the EU's highest court ruled recently.

In a judgement issues last month, the Court of Justice of the EU said that aggregators' re-utilisation of data can, in certain circumstances, be a breach of the content owner's rights.

A meta search engine transfers users' queries to other search engines in order to locate and display relevant results from a broader range of sources. A meta search engine will, for example, take search results from Google, Bing and Ask in order to present varied results.

This all comes from a case in the Netherlands, where a meta search engine on car sales brought back results from a database that was not owned by the parent web site in which the search engine was hosted. The two sides, Wegener AutoTrack and GasPedaal, have been in a court battle, which deferred judgement to the higher court system for guidance on how to interpret EU database laws.

The Court of Justice stated that a website operator can be said to re-utilise either all or a substantial part of a database by making a meta search engine available if certain criteria is met. If the search engine provides the user with a search form that offers the same range of functionality as that of the database site it draws it from but presents it as its own data, then that would be infringing rights.

In most cases, meta search forms group duplications into single blocks in an order that is comparable to the database site, meaning that it is wholly legal. Only if a database qualifies for protection would the operator then be acting illegally.

"This case is good for owners of data and databases as it confirms that competitors cannot simply apply their own search technology to another person's data to get round intellectual property protection," intellectual property law expert Iain Connor of Pinsent Masons, said.