Case law

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Information on case law as it specifically relates to geodata. (See also: Statute law.)


Geodata and legal regimes

Database law more generally

European Union

A good summary of database right case law is here, but note that it has not been updated since 2006.

European Court of Justice

The EU CJ has issued several key cases, including:

  • University of Freiburg vs Directmedia Publishing
    • Suggests that an infringement can be made even if the database is copied indirectly (e.g. transcribing from a map, not just downloading the original db)
    • Ruling: [1]
    • Summary: [2]
  • British Horseracing Board Ltd vs William Hill (2001 and subsequent)
    • Definitive case on many aspects of the database right, including substantiality and extraction.
    • Analysis: [3], [4], [5], [6], [7]
    • Google for lots more.


  • Designer Guild Ltd vs Russell Williams Textiles Ltd (2002)
    • Discusses 'substantial part' of a copyrighted work, and originality, but in a copyright context so may or may not be applicable to interpreting "substantial" in the database context.
    • Analysis: [9]

The Netherlands

  • Landmark Nederland Secures Right of Use for Public Data [10]


United States

  • Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc
    • Pivotal Supreme Court judgement that facts cannot be copyrighted, nor can mere compilations of those facts. Extinguished the concept of "sweat of the brow" alone meriting protection.
    • Analysis: [11], [12]
  • Sparaco vs. Lawler, Matusky et. al
  • Stone v Pinon
  • Mason v Montgomery Data
    • Judgement: [15]
    • Appears to draw a distinction between factual geodata (cannot be copyrighted) and cartographic "expression" (can be copyrighted)
  • A round-up of US Map Copyright Litigation, 1789-1998


It is possible in Australia for copyright to subsist in a compilation of facts, according to the 2002 case, Desktop Marketing v Telstra, however, two recent rulings have determined that automated assembly by computer processing may not be sufficient for copyright to subsist. They have reinforced the requirement for authorship, creativity and originality and determined that cost and effort invested in the compilation of a database is insufficient, alone, for copyright to subsist.

  • IceTV vs Nine Network (2009)
    • Ruling: [16]
    • Summary: [17]
    • "there is no infringement where the defendant has only extracted and reproduced unoriginal facts"
  • Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd (2010)
    • Ruling: [18]
    • "They must have done something, howsoever defined, that can be considered original" - copyright protection requires "independent intellectual effort and/or sufficient effort of a literary nature"
    • Assembling the compilation according to a set of "Rules" is not sufficient effort: "There is no independent effort, let alone such effort being intellectual. There is no effort, let alone sufficient effort, of a literary nature. I reject the Applicants’ contention that there is judgment or discretion used in selecting the material for inclusion."
    • Summary: [19].
    • "The decision further reinforces the view of the High Court in the IceTV Case that copyright is not the appropriate means of protecting compilations or databases if they are not original works, regardless of the significant expense or labour involved" [20]

Neither subsequent case took the opportunity of overruling the decision in Desktop Marketing, with both cases distinguished on their facts. The ratio of the IceTV decision did not address the situation of whether copyright subsisted in the original work. It was sufficient to decide that no infringement had occurred.


The intellectual property laws across Scandinavia have a lot in common. Even Norway and Iceland have implemented the relevant EU directives.


Mál og menning Ltd. vs the National Land Survey of Iceland (Landmælingar Íslands) 2002 (English translation)