Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – compilations

The Copyright Act defines a compilation as “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.”

As the legislative history explains, “a ‘compilation’ results from a process of selecting, bringing together, organizing, and arranging previously existing material of all kinds, regardless of whether the individual items in the material have been or ever could have been subject to copyright.” The statute states that “the term ‘compilation’ includes collective works”. Creating a collective work also “involves the selection, assembly, and arrangement of ‘a number of contributions,” because this type of work “is a species of ‘compilation.’”

The fact that a compilation has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office does not necessarily mean that every element of the work is protected by copyright. A claim to copyright in a compilation “extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work” and does not “imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material.” The data, facts, or other uncopyrightable material that appears in a compilation is not protected by the copyright in that work. A registration for a compilation does not cover any of the preexisting material or data that appears in the compilation unless that material or data is expressly claimed in the registration.

Likewise, a registration for a compilation does not cover any previously published material, previously registered material, public domain material, or third party material that appears in the compilation. “This inevitably means that the 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.”

When registering a compilation, the applicant should identify the preexisting material or data that the author selected, coordinated, and/or arranged. If the compilation contains an appreciable amount of previously published material, previously registered material, public domain material, or material owned by a third party, the applicant generally should limit the claim to the new material that the author contributed to the work and the unclaimable material should be excluded from the claim.

The author of a compilation may claim copyright in an original selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of preexisting material, provided that the material has been used in a lawful manner. Section 103(a) of the Copyright Act states that the copyright in a compilation (draft) “does not extend to any part of the work” that “unlawfully” uses preexisting material.