The Stack Archive

So you think you own your electronic data? Think again

Mon 21 Jul 2014

This recent piece on Lexology, a collaborative web-based service for business lawyers, reports on the UK court judgement  from earlier this year which ruled that digital information stored in databases is not property and therefore cannot be possessed.

According to the ruling, while it is possible to exert control over data, it is not possible to own it. This distinction emerged following a case involving a publisher and an IT supplier. As the Lexology writers report “the England and Wales Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s judgment that the publishing company’s database could support the database manager’s common law lien as security for its outstanding fees.”

“An electronic database consists of structured information,” Lord Justice Floyd said in his analysis of the judgment.”Although information may give rise to intellectual property rights, such as database right and copyright, the law has been reluctant to treat information itself as property.”

When information is created and recorded there are sharp distinctions between the information itself, the physical medium on which the information is recorded and the rights to which the information gives rise. Whilst the physical medium and the rights are treated as property, the information itself has never been.”

This confirmation that electronically-stored information is not property emphasises the importance that businesses take extra measures to protect the security of their data. Dependence on property rights will not be enough to ensure the security of their information.

However, it was suggested by the UK Court of Appeal that property rights would have to be re-considered in Parliament to account for technological developments.


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