Draft third edition of USA copyright office compendium – compilations and collective works

A compilation or a collective work may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, provided that it constitutes copyrightable subject matter. If the authorship involved in creating the compilation or collective work as a whole (i.e., the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement) does not fall within one or more of the congressionally established categories of authorship, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant if the authorship appears questionable or may refuse registration.

A compilation may contain several distinct forms of authorship:

  • Selection – authorship involved in choosing the material or data that will be included in the compilation;
  • Coordination – authorship involved in classifying, categorizing, ordering, or grouping the material or data; and/or
  • Arrangement – authorship involved in organizing or moving the order, position, or placement of material or data within the compilation as a whole.

In determining whether a compilation satisfies the originality requirement, the registration specialist should focus on the manner in which the materials or data “have been selected, coordinated, and arranged” and “the principal focus should be on whether the selection, coordination, and arrangement are sufficiently original to merit protection.”

The authorship involved in selecting, coordinating, and arranging the preexisting material or data must be objectively revealed in the deposit copy(ies). For instance, a compilation of statistics is not copyrightable if the author’s selection, coordination, or arrangement of data is not evident in the claim. The Office cannot register a compilation “in which the selection, coordination, and arrangement are not sufficiently original to trigger copyright protection.” The preexisting material or data do not need to “be presented in an innovative or surprising way.”

The Office may register the claim if the author’s selection possesses some minimal degree of creativity, even if the coordination and/or arrangement do not (or vice versa). However, the more creative the selection, coordination, and/ or arrangement, the more likely it is that the author’s compilation will be registered. In determining whether the author’s compilation is sufficiently original, the U.S. Copyright Office may consider the following factors:

  • What type of material or data did the author compile?
  • How is the material or data presented?
  • Was the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement made from a large or diverse pool of material or data?
  • Was the coordination or arrangement standard?
  • Is the selection exhaustive (e.g., a parts catalog containing standard information for all of the parts sold by a particular company)?
  • Is the coordination or arrangement obvious (e.g., is the information listed in alphabetical, numerical, or chronological order)?

Although uncopyrightable material, by definition, is not eligible for copyright protection, the Office may register a work that contains uncopyrightable material, provided that the work as a whole contains other material that qualifies as an original work of authorship (e.g., a selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of uncopyrightable elements where the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship).