Copyright Compendium

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Chapter 2100
Chapter 2200
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Chapter 2400

310.2 Aesthetic Value, Artistic Merit, and Intrinsic Quality

310.2 Aesthetic Value, Artistic Merit, and Intrinsic Quality

In determining whether a work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship, the U.S. Copyright Office does not consider the aesthetic value, artistic merit, or intrinsic quality of a work. H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 51 (1976) , reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5664. For example, the Office will not look for any particular style of creative expression. Likewise, the Office will not consider whether a work is visually appealing or written in elegant prose.

As the Supreme Court noted, “it would be a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law to constitute themselves final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations, outside of the narrowest and most obvious limits.” Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., 188 U.S. 239, 251 (1903). The legislative history for the Copyright Act recognizes that “the standard of originality established by the courts . . . does not include requirements of . . . esthetic merit” and expressly states that Congress did not intend “to enlarge the standard of copyright protection” to impose this requirement. See H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 51 (1976) , reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5664.

For the same reasons, the Office will not consider the truth or falsity of the facts set forth in a work of authorship. Nor will the Office consider the soundness or the unsoundness of the views espoused in the work. See Belcher v. Tarbox, 486 F.2d 1087, 1088 (9th Cir. 1973) (“The gravity and immensity of the problems, theological, philosophical, economic and scientific, that would confront a court if this view were adopted are staggering to contemplate. It is surely not a task lightly to be assumed, and we decline the invitation to assume it.”) (footnote omitted).