Notwithstanding their dominant position and unnaturally large profit margins, the big three are jealous of Europe’s database owners. On March 11, 1996, the European Union Parliament and Council adopted the Directive on the Legal Protection of Databases (“EU Database Directive”). The EU Database Directive gave Europe’s database owners the authority to prevent unauthorized extraction and re-utilization of the contents of their database for a period of 15 years from the creation of the database. The EU has threatened the United States with trade retaliation if it fails to enact similar legislation.
The legal publishers are pressuring Congress to pass a law similar to the EU Database Directive. Congress has considered several such laws. On May 19, 1998, the House passed H.R. 2652, the Collections of Information Antipiracy Act; which died in committee in the Senate. The bill was called “an unfortunate residue of an overprotective exclusive property rights approach.” The 106th Congress considered two bills, H.R. 345 and H.R. 1858. While H.R. 345 was favorable to the publishing industry, H.R. 1858 was written by its sponsors with the advice of the public interest community to be a compromise bill. Both bills successfully made it out of their respective committees, but they were never consolidated into a version the Senate could consider. With the end of the 106th Congress, database protection was once again dead in the water.
The battle continues in the 108th Congress. On October 8, 2003, Representative Howard Coble and nine other cosponsors introduced a bill favorable to legal publishers, H.R. 3261, the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act. In response, on March 3, 2004, Representative Cliff Stearns introduced H.R. 3872, the Consumer Access to Information Act of 2004. Both bills passed their respective committees, and, as of this writing, the two competing bills were placed on the House’s Union Calendar for consolidation before being brought to the floor of the House for a vote.
Reed Elsevier and Thomson are serious about obtaining increased copyright protections. In 2003, Reed Elsevier spent $1.2 million on its own full-time lobbyists and paid seven Washington D.C. lobbying firms over $640,000 to convince Congress to increase intellectual property rights, including database protection. As of mid-2004, Reed Elsevier has spent an additional $163,875 on federal lobbying. In addition to hiring lobbyists, Reed Elsevier donates a modest amount of money to political candidates via its Political Action Committee. In the 2000 election cycle, Reed Elsevier donated $12,500; in the 2002 cycle it donated $50,045; and in 2004 it has donated $53,522 as of the August 2 filing deadline. Reed’s “hard-money” contributions are matched by its $115,175 in soft-money contributions over the 2000 and 2002 election cycles.
Reed Elsevier’s $250,000 in political contributions does not place it in the upper echelon of federal donors. The West Group, now owned by Thomson, has a consummate Washington insider and longtime large donor in former West head Vance Opperman. Opperman is repeatedly scrutinized for his large political donations. In the 2000 election cycle alone, Opperman, via the holding company Key Investments, gave $488,000 in soft money to federal Democrats. Opperman also gave over $170,000 in 2002 to Democrats in Minnesota, where the West division of Thomson is headquartered. Thus far the millions Reed and Thomson have spent have not been enough to convince Congress to pass a favorable law.
by Jason Gelman