Line to take - LTT76 - Third party on-line databases

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  • Section/Regulation: s1
  • lssue: Third party on-line databases
  • Source: Information Tribunal
  • Details: Marlow / Melton Borough Council (31 August 2006)
  • Related Lines to Take: n/a
  • Related Documents: FS50084406, EA/2005/0031, FS50102786 ([Redacted name] / Doncaster MBC)
  • Contact: EW
  • Date: 11/10/2007
  • Policy Reference: LTT76
  • © Copyright Information Commissioner's Office, re-used with permission
  • Original source linked from here: LTT

Line to take

Information which has been identified, selected, downloaded and saved or printed by a public authority fr om a third party’s online database will be held by that public authority. In most cases public authorities will not hold any of the remainder of the information held in such a database.

Further Information

In the case of Marlow v the In formation Commissioner (heard in two hearings) the Information Tribunal considered whether a third party’s online database — in this case the database of statutory material maintained by Butterworths Direct — could be said to be held by a public authority which is able to access it.

It clearly distinguished between information specifically selected for use fr om the database, and all information or data held within it.

Information selected for use

In relation to the first the Tribunal stated that, “Once particular information on that database has been identified, selected, downloaded and saved on the subscriber’s computer system then it is in our view clearly information that is “held” by the subscriber. Information printed direct fr om screen is also “held” by the subscriber who has possession of the printed version.” (para. 3)

All information within database

In considering whether all information held within a third party’s database would be held by a subscribing public authority, the Tribunal suggested that this would be dependent on the terms of the contract between the subscriber and database owner and the technical means by which the subscriber accesses the database.

While noting that it is conceivable that some cases will exist where the subscriber’s rights to access, use and exploit the database are so unrestricted that they could be said to hold the information, the Tribunal was clear that, “in the great majority of cases the total body of information, held on a third party’s database and capable of being accessed by a public authority under [limiting] subscriber rights [...] should not be characterised as having been “held” by the public authority.” (para. 3)

Unless there is any credible suggestion that the public authority’s rights to access the database are completely unrestricted, it is the ICO’s view that information in a third party database which has not been downloaded and saved or printed will not be held.


In the case of the Butterworths database (now Lexis Nexis), the Tribunal established that the restrictive nature of the single use licence is such that a public authority could not be said to hold the information within it.