Saturday, October 02, 2004

Yes, Virginia, there is a Compilation Copyright

In the shortest entry yet, there is the longest comment thread to date at The Blog of Henry David Thoreau, and a legal discussion at that. I had claimed a copyright for TBOHDT and its edited comments. A reader had initially misinterpreted the right I was claiming, and when I explained that it was actually a compilation copyright, she countered that the copyright doesn’t hold in the US. That’s not true exactly. In U.S. Copyright Office Report On Legal Protection For Databases of August 1997 I found some relevant information.
The Copyright Act of 1976 included a definition of “compilation” which, for the first time, drew an express statutory connection between compilations and “original works of authorship”:

A “compilation” is a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship. The term “compilation” includes collective works.(16)

The definition compels a court to examine the nature of a compilation’s “selection, coordination, or arrangement” in order to determine whether the compilation is “an original work of authorship” protectible under section 102(a). In other words, the same originality requirement applies to compilations as to all other works.
Since then, there have been challenges to the act, and it has been whittled down quite a bit. Specifically in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co, the Court ruled:
Copyright in a factual compilation is thin. Notwithstanding a valid copyright, a subsequent compiler remains free to use the facts contained in another’s publication to aid in preparing a competing work, so long as the competing work does not feature the same selection and arrangement.
Subsequent lower court cases have also pared away, but:
In summary, very few of the post-Feist compilation cases have held entire works to be uncopyrightable. In fact, copyrightability of the entire work is seldom even contested. Disputes tend to focus instead on the scope of protection.
Thus there is a legal claim to the entire selection and arrangement of material for a complete work. FYI searchers. Yes, Virginia, and the rest of the United States, there is a compilation copyright.

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