The New York Mercantile Exchange Inc (NYMEX) has sued in a federal court in Manhattan, accusing Atlanta-based on-line commodity exchange IntercontinentalExchange Inc (ICE) of copying its prices – and thereby infringing its copyright.

In its suit, NYMEX claims that, without its permission, ICE used NYMEX-created prices for natural gas and crude oil futures for its on-line exchange. These prices, NYMEX argues, are copyrighted material, since they are included in its automated database which is registered with the US Copyright Office.

In the US, the registration of copyrights is normal practice, but not something that is done in the UK. However, the UK is familiar with the protection of databases – such as tables of prices – under its 1997 implementation of a European Directive.

NYMEX alleges that, notwithstanding its registration of copyright, its prices are protected by copyright laws as "original works of authorship." Under copyright legislation, a work qualifies for copyright protection if it is "original" or "expressive."

US courts have ruled that prices can be copyrighted. In two earlier cases, appeal court judges ruled that projected used car valuations and suggested wholesale prices for collectible coins were copyrighted material, since they were the product of "professional judgement and expertise."

NYMEX now argues that its prices were the product of "a significant degree of educated judgement" of its employees.

The UK's Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations are available at:
www.hmso.gov.uk/si/si1997/1973032.htm#aofr