Copyright Office clarifies its practices with respect to compilations

The Copyright Office issued a policy statement to clarify its practices relating to the examination of claims in compilations, and particularly in claims of copyrightable authorship in selection and arrangement of exercises or of other uncopyrightable matter. The statement also clarifies the Office’s policies with respect to registration of choreographic works.

The Copyright Office concluded that a compilation must fall within one or more of the categories of authorship listed in section 102 of the Copyright Act.

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) literary works;

(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;

(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;

(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

(7) sound recordings; and

(8) architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

Thus, the Office will not register a  ‘‘compilation of ideas,’’ or a ‘‘selection and arrangement of handtools’’ or a ‘‘compilation of rocks.’’ “Neither ideas, handtools, nor rocks may be protected by copyright (although an expression of an idea, a drawing of a handtool or a photograph of rock may be copyrightable).”

An example of a compilation wherein the registration would be looked upon favorably might be an original compilation of the names of the author’s 50 favorite restaurants. While neither a restaurant (nor the name of a restaurant) may be protected by copyright, the list may warrant registration based on the author’s original selection and/or arrangement of the author’s fifty favorite restaurants.

Another example offered by the Copyright Office involves the ability to copyright the selection and arrangement of preexisting exercises, such as yoga poses. Under the policy stated herein, a claim in a compilation of exercises or the selection and arrangement of yoga poses would be refused registration, as “Exercise” is not a category of authorship in the Section 102 list. The Copyright Office would, however, entertain a claim in the selection, coordination or arrangement of, photographs or drawings of exercises.

In another example, the Copyright Office has relied upon Congressional intentions that the subject matter of choreography not include ‘‘social dance steps and simple routines.’’

“A compilation of simple routines, social  dances, or even exercises would not be registrable unless it results in a category of copyrightable authorship [ it has to reach the level of “choreography,” see number 4 in in Section 102]. A mere compilation of physical movements does not rise to the level of choreographic authorship unless it contains sufficient attributes of a work of choreography. And what are those? “A claim in a choreographic work must contain at least a minimum amount of original choreographic authorship. Choreographic authorship is considered, for copyright purposes, to be the composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive whole.”