Economic Dependence and Data Access

  • Thomas TombalEmail author


Traditionally, according to EU competition law, if an undertaking holding a dominant position refuses to grant access to its data to another undertaking, this could potentially lead to an abuse precluded by Art. 102 TFEU. However, the scope of this provision is limited as it only applies to dominant undertakings. Yet, powerful data holders that do not benefit from such a dominant position might start refusing to provide access to their data to undertakings with limited bargaining power. This is notably illustrated by two cases in the USA, namely PeopleBrowsr v. Twitter and hiQ v. LinkedIn. These two cases raise the question of whether the concept of abuse of economic dependence could prove to be a valuable alternative in order to deal with refusals, by non-dominant undertakings, to provide access to data to undertakings with a weaker bargaining power. In this article, the rationale for data access and sharing in light of the data’s characteristics will first be briefly outlined. Then, the conditions of the abuse of economic dependence will be identified by relying on Belgian, German and French law. On these grounds, the article will question whether a refusal to provide access to data could qualify as an abuse of economic dependence.


Economic dependence Relative market power Data access Data sharing economy 



The author would like to thank Prof. Dr. Alexandre de Streel, Prof. Dr. Reto M Hilty, Dr. Inge Graef, Dr. Bertin Martens and the participants to the “Third Workshop for Junior Researchers in IP law” organised at Sciences Po Law School on 20–21 June 2019 (in particular Thomas Verdonk), for their valuable comments on the draft versions of this article. The author would also like to thank BELSPO, the Belgian Federal Science Policy office, for their financial aid, according to the agreement of subsidy No. [BR/154/A4/FLEXPUB].


  1. Abrahamson Z (2014) Essential data. Yale Law J 124(3), (867):867–881Google Scholar
  2. Argenton C, Prüfer J (2012) Search engine competition with network externalities. J Compet Law Econ 8(1):73–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Autorité de la concurrence and Bundeskartellamt (2016) Competition law and data. 10 May 2016, available at
  4. Bakhoum M. (2015) Abuse without dominance in competition law: abuse of economic dependence and its interface with abuse of dominance. Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition Research Paper No. 15-15. Available at
  5. Barbero M, Cocoru D, Graux H, Hillebrand A, Linz F, Osimo D, Siede A, Wauters P (2018) Study on emerging issues of data ownership, interoperability, (re-)usability and access to data, and liability, 25 April 2018. Available at
  6. Bougette P, Budzinski O, Marty F (2018) Exploitative abuse and abuse of economic dependence: What can we learn from an industrial organization approach?. Ilmenau Economics Discussion Papers No. 119. Available at
  7. Boy L (2006) Abuse of market power: controlling dominance or protecting competition? In: Ullrich H (ed) The Evolution of European competition law: whose regulation, which competition?. Cheltenham and Northampton, Edward Elgar, pp 201–223Google Scholar
  8. Carbonell I (2016) “The ethics of big data in big agriculture. Internet Policy Rev 5(1):pp. 1–13. Available at
  9. Colangelo C, Maggiolino M (2017) Big data as misleading facilities. Eur Compet J 2–3(13):249–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crémer J, de Montjoye Y-A, Schweitzer H (2019) Competition policy for the digital era—final report. available at
  11. De Boüard F (2007) La dépendance économique née d’un contrat. LGDJ, ParisGoogle Scholar
  12. Derclaye E (2004) Databases sui generis right: Should I adopt the spin off theory? E.I.P.R., 2004, 26(9), pp 402–413Google Scholar
  13. Drexl J (2016) Designing competitive markets for industrial data—between propertisation and access (October 31, 2016). Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition Research Paper No. 16–13. Available at SSRN:
  14. European Commission (2009) Communication from the commission—guidance on the commission’s enforcement priorities in applying Article 82 of the EC Treaty to abusive exclusionary conduct by dominant undertakings, OJ C 45, 24 February 2009Google Scholar
  15. European Commission (2018a) Communication from the commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, “Towards a common European data space”, 25 April 2018, COM(2018) 232 finalGoogle Scholar
  16. European Commission (2018b) Commission Staff Working Document. “Guidance on sharing private sector data in the European data economy”, accompanying the document Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, “Towards a common European data space”, 25 April 2018, SWD(2018) 125 finalGoogle Scholar
  17. Feteira L (2016) The interplay between European and national competition law after regulation 1/2003. Kluwer, Alphen aan den RijnGoogle Scholar
  18. Frischmann BM (2012) Infrastructure: the social value of shared resources. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gal MS, Rubinfeld DL (2019) Data standardization. NYU Law Review 94, forthcomingGoogle Scholar
  20. Graef I (2015) Market definition and market power in data: the case of online platforms. World Compet Law Econ Rev 38(4):473–506Google Scholar
  21. Graef I (2016) EU competition law, data protection and online platforms: data as essential facility. Kluwer, Alphen aan den RijnGoogle Scholar
  22. Graef I, Prüfer J (2018) Mandated data sharing is a necessity in specific sectors. Jaargang, No.103 (4763), 5 July 2018, pp. 298–301, available at:
  23. Graef I, Wahyuningtyas S, Valcke P (2015) Assessing data access issues in online platforms. Telecommun Policy 39:375–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Haucap J (2018) A German approach to antitrust for digital platforms. In: Digital platforms and concentration, second annual antitrust and competition conference, pp 8–13,
  25. Hugenholtz B (2003) Program schedules, event data and telephone subscriber listings under the database directive–The ‘Spin-Off’ Doctrine in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, Paper presented at 11th annual conference on international intellectual property law and policy, Fordham University School of Law, New York, April 14–25, available at
  26. Kathuria V, Globocnik J (2019) Exclusionary conduct in data-driven markets: limitations of data sharing remedy. Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition Research Paper No. 19-04,
  27. Kerber W (2018) Data governance in connected cars: the problem of access to in-vehicle data. JIPITEC 9(2018):310–331Google Scholar
  28. Kerber W (2019) Data-sharing in IoT ecosystems from a competition law perspective: the example of connected cars, 26 August 2019,
  29. Khan L (2018) What makes tech platforms so powerful? In: Digital platforms and concentration, second annual antitrust and competition conference, pp 14–17, on.pdf
  30. Larouche P (2008) The European Microsoft case at the crossroads of competition policy and innovation. Antitrust Law J 75:933–963Google Scholar
  31. OCDE (2015) Data-driven innovation: big data for growth and well-being. OECD Publishing, Paris. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Richter H, Slowinski P (2019) The data sharing economy: on the emergence of new intermediaries. IIC 50:4–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schweitzer H, Haucap J, Kerber W, Welker R (2018) Modernisierung der Missbrauchsaufsicht für marktmächtige Unternehmen, Projekt Nr. 66/17 im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi), 29 August 2018, available at
  34. WP 29 (2017) Guidelines on the right to data portability, 5 April 2017, WP 242 rev.01, available at

Copyright information

© Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, Munich 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Namur – CRIDS – NaDINamurBelgium

Personalised recommendations