Unauthorised Database Use to Cost Companies

Creating a commercial database and keeping it up to date is an expensive business and owners of such databases often take precautions to make sure they are not used without permission. One method of doing this is for the owners of databases to plant ‘seeds’ in them to enable them to detect unauthorised use.

A seed is a false contact, which, when used, is sent to the database owner, enabling them to identify that the database has been used for a mailing or email campaign.

In a recent case, the owner of a database of doctors and nurses received a mail shot from a company that had sent material to two of its seeds. It transpired that the mail shot had come from a company that had acquired the database from another company that had obtained it legitimately from the owner, but which did not have permission to pass on its contents.

In October 2010, a claim for summary judgment (judgment on the basis that the evidence is overwhelming) was rejected as at that time the court was not satisfied that the evidence was sufficient to show that the company that sent the mail shot had used ‘substantial extraction’ of the database. When the original application was made, only one seed was known about and used in evidence.

At trial, evidence of the contact with the second seed was produced and the company that owns the database was successful in showing that the defendants had used its contents without having the right to do so.

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