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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – research and book design


The U.S. Copyright Office cannot register (draft) a claim in research, because it suggests that the applicant may be asserting a claim in the facts that appear in the work or the effort involved in collecting that information.

The Supreme Court expressly rejected the “sweat of the brow” or “industrious collection” doctrines, which made copyright protection a “reward for the hard work” involved in creating a work. The Court concluded that “protection for the fruits of such research…may in certain circumstances be available under a theory of unfair competition,” but recognized that a claim to copyright “on this basis alone distorts basic copyright principles.”

Although research is not copyrightable, the Office may register a work of authorship that describes, explains, or illustrates factual research, provided that the work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship. For example, a research paper, a scientific journal, or a biopic may be registered if the work contains a sufficient amount of literary, pictorial, graphic, or audiovisual expression. However, the registration does not extend to the facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries described in the work. “They may not be copyrighted and are part of the public domain available to every person.”

Book Design

The overall format or layout of a book or other printed publication cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, regardless of whether the book is published in print or electronic form. Book design includes all of the physical or visual attributes of a book or printed publication, such as the choice of style and size of typeface, leading (i.e., the space between lines of type), the placement of the folio (i.e., page numbers), the arrangement of type on the pages, or the placement, spacing, and juxtaposition of textual and illustrative matter in the work.

The copyright law does not protect these elements because they fall within the realm of uncopyrightable ideas. Deciding how and where to place content in a book or printed publication is merely a process or technique, regardless of the number of decisions involved. The fact that “a work is distinctive, unique or pleasing in appearance, and embodies certain ideas of contrast or coloring does not necessarily afford a basis for copyright protection.”