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In 1996, a database treaty that the European Commission had put forward, in connection with the WIPO negotiations on transmissions in cyberspace, ultimately failed to win the support of other regional groups. Since then, the inability of the United States Congress to enact any form of database legislation has stymied further multilateral undertakings on this topic. This impasse may soon be broken, however, owing to the change of Administrations and to the appointment of new committee chairmen in the United States House of Representatives.

This article will discuss the prospects for an international regulatory framework for non copyrightable databases in the light of recent developments in the United States. Part 2 will locate the database problem within the larger context of international intellectual property protection, and it will demonstrate why the European Commission’s 1996 Directive on the legal protection of databases represented a radical departure from basic tenets of the classical intellectual property system handed down from the nineteenth century. Part 3 will compare the existing E.U. model of database protection with the two proposed models currently under consideration in the United States, from which any compromise formula is likely to be drawn. It ends with some reflections on the deeper legal and economic implications of these proposals.

Part 4 will then explore the implications for the international intellectual property system likely to arise if the U.S. adopts a model of database protection that differs significantly from that of the E.U. It proposes an umbrella treaty to bridge the gap between high and low protectionist models. While a low protectionist outcome in the United States is by no means certain at the time of writing, a careful consideration of ways and means to reduce friction between countries that opt to provide different levels of protection in the global marketplace seems merited at the present juncture.