Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – legal materials

Certain types of legal materials may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office if they contain a sufficient amount of original expression. Certain types of legal materials may be registered as a compilation if the author exercised a sufficient amount of creativity in selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging the preexisting materials that appear within the deposit.

Legal Publications

A legal publication that analyzes, annotates, summarizes, or comments upon a legislative enactment, a judicial decision, an executive order, an administrative regulation, or other edicts of government may be registered as a nondramatic literary work, provided that the publication contains a sufficient amount of literary expression.

The Office will consider an application to register a citator containing specialized indexes for tracing the prior and subsequent history of a judicial decision; for identifying decisions that have followed, explained, distinguished, criticized, or overruled a previous judicial decision; or for researching a specific area of the law. This type of work may be registered if it contains a sufficient amount of new text, such as an introduction or a brief summary of the issues discussed in each case. Likewise, a citator may be registered as a compilation, provided that the author exercised a sufficient amount of creativity in selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging the categories that appear within the work.

Legal Documents

Contracts, insurance policies, or other legal documents may be registered if they contain a sufficient amount of expression that is original to the author. The U.S. Copyright Office may register briefs, motions, prepared testimony, expert reports, or other legal pleadings, provided that they contain a sufficient amount of expression that originated with the author (regardless of whether the pleading has or has not been filed with a judicial or administrative body).  Likewise, the Office may register books that contain sample forms used in preparing contracts, pleadings, or other legal documents.

Legal documents typically contain an appreciable amount of language that may have been obtained from other sources, such as standard form contracts, prior pleadings, form books, and the like. Much of this language may have been previously published, it may be owned by other parties, or it may be in the public domain. Often the language used in a legal document may be determined by the requirements of the relevant statutory, regulatory, or decisional law. In some cases, the author may be required to use specific legal terminology or a specific sentence structure, such as the boilerplate language found in a lease, bailment, chattel mortgage, security interest, or similar transactions.

The Office may register a legal document that contains an appreciable amount of unclaimable material, provided that the claim is limited to the new material that the author contributed to the work and provided that the unclaimable material has been excluded from the claim. For purposes of registration, unclaimable material includes previously published material, previously registered material, public domain material, or copyrightable material that is owned by another party.

Patents, Patent Applications, and Non-Patent Literature

The U.S. Copyright Office may register (draft) a claim to copyright in the written description for an invention or the drawings or photographs set forth in a patent or a patent application, provided that the work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship. Likewise, the Office may register a claim to copyright in articles, publications, or other non-patent literature that may be submitted with a patent application. However, the copyright in a patent, a patent application, or non-patent literature does not extend to any “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery” that may be disclosed in these works.