312.1 Copyrightable Subject Matter
A compilation or a collective work may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, provided that it constitutes copyrightable subject matter.
As discussed in Section 307, compilations and collective works are a subset of the subject matter categories set forth in Section 102 (A) of the Copyright Act, rather than separate and distinct categories of works. See Registration of Claims to Copyright, 77 Fed. Reg. 37,605, 37,606 (June 22, 2012). Thus, a compilation or a collective work must qualify as a literary work; a musical work; a dramatic work; a pantomime or choreographic work; a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work; a motion picture or audiovisual work; a sound recording; and/or an architectural work. See id. If the authorship involved in creating the compilation or collective work as a whole (i.e., the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement) does not fall within one or more of the congressionally established categories of authorship, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant if the authorship appears questionable or may refuse registration. Id.
• The Office may register a sculptural work comprised of rocks that are selected, coordinated, and arranged in a creative manner. Likewise, the Office may register a photograph of a rock, a drawing of a handtool, or a written expression of an idea. However, the Office cannot register a mere “compilation of ideas,” a mere “selection and arrangement of handtools,” or a mere “compilation of rocks,” because ideas, handtools, and rocks do not constitute copyrightable subject matter under Section 102 (A) of the Copyright Act.
• The Office may register a photograph of food if the photographer exercised some minimal level of creativity in taking the picture. However, the Office cannot register a “compilation of food” based on a selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of items on a plate, because food does not constitute copyrightable subject matter under Section 102 (A) of the Copyright Act. Although a sculptural depiction of a plate of food may be copyrightable, that would not prevent actual food from being arranged in the same way. See 17 U.S.C. § 113 (B).
• The Office may register a claim in a compilation containing the names of the author’s fifty favorite restaurants. While a restaurant or the name of a restaurant does not constitute copyrightable subject matter under Section 102 (A) of the Act, a list of restaurant names may constitute a literary work, which is one of the congressionally established categories of authorship.
See 77 Fed. Reg. at 37,606.