European Union law
In European Union law, a database protection is a legal right, that was introduced in 1996. Database rights are specifically coded laws on the copying and dissemination of information in computer databases. De facto, databases when defended have been covered by copyright law. On 11 March 1996 the Council of the European Union passed Directive No. 96/9/EC of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases, giving a specific and separate legal rights (and limitations) to certain computer records.
Database protection lasts for 15 years, and can be extended if the database is updated. An owner has the right to object to the copying of substantial parts of their database, even if data is extracted and reconstructed piecemeal. Database rights under the EU are created automatically, vested in the employers of creators (when the action of creation was part of employment), and do not have to be registered to have effect. There is no protection over the form of expression of information, only over the information itself.
U.S Copyright law
Databases are generally protected by copyright law as compilations. Under the Copyright Act, a compilation is defined as a “collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.” The preexisting materials or data may be protected by copyright.
An example of a database that is protected as a compilation would be a database of selected poems from authors. The individual poems themselves may or may not be subject to copyright protection. However, the selection of the poems involves enough original, creative expression that it is protected by copyright. Therefore, a database of poems will be protected by copyright as a compilation even though some of the quotations are not protected.