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

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310.3 Symbolic Meaning and Impression

310.3 Symbolic Meaning and Impression

When the U.S. Copyright Office examines a work of authorship, it determines whether the work “possess[es] the minimal creative spark required by the Copyright Act and the Constitution.” Feist, 499 U.S. at 363. The symbolic meaning or impression of a work is irrelevant to this determination.

The Office will use objective criteria to determine whether a work constitutes copyrightable subject matter and satisfies the originality requirement. In making this determination, the Office will consider the expression that is fixed in the work itself and is perceptible in the deposit copy(ies). Specifically, the Office will focus only on the actual appearance or sound of the work that has been submitted for registration, but will not consider any meaning or significance that the work may evoke. See Star Athletica, 137 S. Ct. at 1015 (“our inquiry is limited to how [the work is] perceived”). The fact that creative thought may take place in the mind of the person who encounters a work has no bearing on the issue of originality. See 17 U.S.C. § 102.

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