Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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1002.6 Databases

1002.6 Databases

For purposes of copyright registration, the U.S. Copyright Office defines a “database” 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.

In other words, a database generally consists of two fundamental elements: (I) a data set or multiple data sets, and (ii) an information retrieval program or system that serves as the sole entry point into the underlying data, information, or files. Typically, the party that created the information retrieval program or system is not the same party that created the copyrightable content contained within the database. An application to register a database typically covers the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of the data, information, or files, but does not cover the data, information, or files unless they are specifically claimed in the application.

Websites may contain databases, but they are not considered databases for the purpose of copyright registration. Generally, users may access all the content on a website by browsing through the pages of the website or its hierarchical structure. By contrast, users generally cannot access the content of a database in its entirety. Instead, users retrieve specific data, data sets, or other content from the database by using a query function that fetches content that meets the particular criteria provided by the user.

Whereas the content of a website is wholly displayed online, the data contained within a database is displayed only to the extent that it matches a particular query that a specific user enters into the information retrieval system. Not all search functions qualify as information retrieval programs or systems. For instance, a website may provide a search feature to assist users in locating particular information on the site, but this does not transform the website into a database because the search feature is not the sole entry point for accessing the underlying data or files.

For additional information concerning databases, see Chapter 700, Section 727.

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