Yellow Pages vs. Neumann - Malta Copyright Protection

Chryssa Tsiotsi | Published on 26 Apr 2011

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Recently Yellow Pages (Malta) Ltd obtained an important court declaration over the interpretation / definition of a database and the extent to whihc Maltese Copyright Law offers it protection. The judgement was delivered by the First Hall of the Civil Court on the 24th March 2011 in Yellow Pages (Malta) Limited vs. Jurgen Neumann et.

Yellow Pages is a local producer & distributor of the Yellow Pages on the Maltese market. The company discovered that competitor websites were copying and posting material which was the exact replica as the same material featuring in the Yellow Pages directory itself. Such discovery ws done through the presence of spikes ('hidden mistakesin') in the Yellow Pages sites, which mistakes were also found in the competitor sites themselves, hence confirming that the latter had unlawfully reproduced tale quale.

The court held that the originality of a work is the foundation for its copyright protection. Therefore even works which are drawn on ‘common knowledge’ may be deemed original based on the manner in which they are conceived, arranged, presented and offered. This is more applicable in literary works, such as the Yellow Pages directory, where the work is specifically a compilation of data, facts and information. Even though such material may be regarded as ‘common knowledge’, once it is formatted, strategically placed and systematically presented, such result then becomes an intellectual creation worthy of protection.

Interesting to note is an analyses of article 3 (4) of Chapter 415 of the Laws of Malta which grant copyright protection to databases on the basis of the selection of such data and / or the arrangement of the contents. In spite of this section, in the past there was still lack of clarity over the remaining part of this law, which states that no copyright shall extend to the content of such a database per se but it is the harmonious ensemble and presentation of such data that is afforded protection.

This judgement provides that mere use of the protected work may not suffice to bring about the remedies allowed by law - one has to prove actual reproduction. Yellow Pages detailed the process it undertook to arrive to the final product. However, Neumann failed to show how such material came to be presented on its sites, and worse still, could not justify at all the presence of the spikes.

After assessing the above, the court did not only deem the material as taken and used, but it was also extensively and substantially reproduced with no individual effort or creative process to render the content autonomous and independent by Neumann.The court found that reproduction had definetely taken place.  Neumann was therefore ordered to pay €35,000 in damages to the Yellow Pages (Malta) as well as €15,000 in damages for the unlawful competition.

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