What is Required for a
Compilation to be Eligible for
The law identifies three distinct
elements, all of which must be met for a work to qualify as a
- the collection and assembly of pre-existing material, facts,
- the selection, coordination, or arrangement of those
- the creation, by virtue of the particular selection,
coordination, or arrangement of an original work of authorship.
Collection and assembling facts and information isn't enough.
Compilations, just as any other work, may only be copyrighted if the
originality requirement, “an original work of authorship,” is met.
“The point was emphasized with regard to compilations to ensure that
courts would not repeat the mistake of the ‘sweat of the brow’
courts by concluding that fact-based works are treated differently
and measured by some other standard.” (Feist) The Congressional
goal was to “ ‘make plain that the criteria of copyrightable subject
matter... apply with full force to works... containing preexisting
The Supreme Court, in reviewing the law, has concluded
“that the statute envisions that there will be some fact-based works
in which the selection, coordination, and arrangement are not
sufficiently original to trigger copyright protection” (Feist) in any way at all.
The originality requirement is not very stringent. In fact,
the selection or arrangement methods that others have used may
unknowingly be used; “novelty is not required.” For the originality
requirment, the author needs only to make the arrangement or
selection independently, without copying the selection or
arrangement from another work, and it must display some minimal
level of creativity. While most factual compilations will pass this
test, there will be a small number of works “in which the creative
spark is utterly lacking or so trivial as to be virtually
Originality may occur in the selection of the material to
be included in a compilation. If it is truely original, the
selection may be a part of the protected portion of a compilation.
On the other hand, if the selection of the material is made through
the use of formulas, procedures, or other non-original techniques,
protection of the selection is not likely. Such acts of selection
“are not acts of authorship, but techniques for the discovery of
A copyrightable compilation enjoys only limited protection.
The copyright only covers the "author's original contribution -- not
the facts or information conveyed." (Feist)
"One of the most important points here is one that is
commonly misunderstood today: copyright... has no effect one way or
the other on the copyright or public domain status of the
preexisting material." (Feist)
Note: The copyright law "states that the term
'compilation' includes collective works." (Publications International)