We all remember the excitement when we had our first computer and cell phones. These electronic gadgets store and transmit information in a structured way. Databases serve as the repositories of these information or data.

Today, as we take our activities online, computer servers hold collective information about our shopping preferences, medical records, political interests, browsing history and just about everything else, in the form of data. Many data vendors take such data and sell them to the advertisers. The revelations by Edward Snowden, a former US Intelligence Community officer’s in 2013 on privacy intrusion and digital security caught worldwide attention. Snowden was charged with espionage due to which he took asylum in Russia. He was later granted permanent residency.

Recently the new privacy policy of WhatsApp which includes mandatory sharing of data with the parent company has triggered discussions on data privacy issues globally. WhatsApp being the largest communication platform and sharing the same parent as Facebook and Instagram, this policy backlashed and resulted in 11% decline in the number of the platform’s consumers.

In the past few years, India also has taken initiative in commercializing databases in various fields. But the vagueness of our present Copyright Law protecting databases is questionable in its lack of safeguards. With development in technology, it has now become easy to access data while the law governing the protection of database remains the same.

Section 43 of the IT Act imposes a penalty not exceeding One crore rupees, for downloading data without consent. The Section defines database as “a representation of information, knowledge, facts, concepts or instructions in text, image, audio, video that are being prepared or have been prepared in a formalized manner or have been produced by a computer, computer system or computer network and are intended for use in a computer, computer system or computer network.” In V. Govindan v E.M. Gopalakrishna Kone (01 December 1954) the term “Sweat with brow” was applied which grants copyright protection on the effort and labour that an author puts into his work as opposed to the creativity involved. Indian courts apply this doctrine to decide cases involving copyright protection of databases.

It is imperative to frame new laws regarding database protection, and the first task is to draft a proper definition for database, giving wide exemption to scientific research. The intent of infringer and the harm caused by him should also be accounted by the court. Since the economics of database is unclear it is vitally important that scientists and other data experts have a say in the proposed database protection measures.

Clarity and predictability are essential to maintain the rule of law. Updating data protection laws, and rendering clarity on the ways data may be used, and safeguards for protecting user’s privacy would go a long way in ensuring a sound and robust legal framework so essential for the smooth functioning of arts, industries, commerce, and just about all spheres of life.


Mrudula Manappatt