Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – Databases

In the case of an unpublished database, an applicant may register all of the copyrightable material that appeared in the database as of the date that the registration materials are received in the U.S. Copyright Office. In the case of a published database, an applicant may register all of the copyrightable material that was first published on the date specified in the application.

A registration for a specific version of a database does not cover any previously published or previously registered content that may be included in the database. Likewise, a registration for a specific version of a database does not cover any subsequent updates or revisions that may be made to the database (regardless of whether the database is published or unpublished). Instead, the Office has established a special procedure that allows applicants to register a database together with the subsequent updates or revisions that were made to that database within a period of three months or less.

For purposes of copyright registration, a “database” is defined as a compilation of digital information comprised of data, information, abstracts, images, maps, music, sound recordings, video, other digitized material, or references to a particular subject or subjects. In all cases, the content of a database must be arranged in a systematic manner, and it must be accessed solely by means of an integrated information retrieval program or system with the following characteristics:

  • A query function must be used to access the content.
  • The information retrieval program or system must yield a subset of the content, or it must organize the content based on the parameters specified in each query.

A single-file database is a database comprised of one data file that contains a group of data records pertaining to a common subject, regardless of the size or amount of the data that the records contain. A multi-file database is a database comprised of separate and distinct groups of data records covering multiple subjects. A data record contains all of the information related to a particular unit of information within a database. A “data file” is defined as a group of data records pertaining to a common subject matter, regardless of the size of the records or the amount of data they contain.

As a general rule, databases are considered machine-readable works, because they are fixed or published in optical discs, magnetic tapes, or similar storage media, and as a result they cannot be perceived without the aid of a machine or device. Websites may contain databases, but they are not considered databases for the purpose of copyright registration. Users retrieve content from a website by using a browser function that allows the user to locate and link to the specific pages of the website where information or content is stored.

The “computer databases” may be protected by copyright “to the extent that they incorporate authorship in the programmer’s expression of original ideas, as distinguished from the ideas themselves.” Single-file or multi-file databases typically contain the following forms of authorship:

  • The selection authorship involved in choosing the material or data that is included in the database.
  • The coordination authorship involved in classifying, categorizing, ordering, or grouping the material or data.
  • The arrangement authorship involved in determining the placement or arrangement of the material or data within the database as a whole.
  • The authorship involved in creating the material or data that appears within the database.

Each form of authorship may be registered (draft) with the Office, provided that the database contains a sufficient amount of original expression and provided that the claimant owns the copyright in that material.