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

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1112.2 The Scope of a Group Registration for a Database

1112.2 The Scope of a Group Registration for a Database

The legislative history for the Copyright Act states that “computer data bases” 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.” H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 54 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5659, 5667.

When examining a database, the principle question that the U.S. Copyright Office must consider is whether the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of data or other component elements within the database is sufficiently creative to warrant registration. A database and/or the updates or revisions to that database 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.

Each form of authorship may provide a basis for registering a database, provided that the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement is sufficiently creative.

If the work is registrable as a database, the registration may cover the component elements that appear within the database, such as photographs, sound recordings, or videos, provided that (I) the claimant owns the copyright in those elements, (ii) there is a sufficient amount of creative expression in those elements, and (iii) those elements have not been previously published or previously registered. (In no case may a claimant register elements that are in the public domain.) However, the copyrightable component elements are not sufficient – ” in and of themselves – ” to support a database registration unless the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of those elements with the database is also sufficiently creative.

A group of updates or revisions should be submitted for group registration only if the updates or revisions meet the statutory standard for an original work of authorship. If they do not “satisfy the original work of authorship standard for copyright protection, then no new registration is necessary or warranted.” Registration of Claims to Copyright, Registration and Deposit of Databases, 54 Fed. Reg. 13,177, 13,179 (Mar. 31, 1989). “Where the Office determines that only a few minor revisions have been made in the representative deposit, registration will be subject to question, and absent more

justification, will be denied.” Id.

In all cases, the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement must be evident in the deposit material. If the identifying material or the descriptive statement do not demonstrate that the updates or revisions constitute an original work of authorship, the Office may communicate with the applicant or may refuse to register the claim.

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