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

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313.4 (B) De Minimis Authorship


313.4 (B) De Minimis Authorship


The term “de minimis” comes from the legal principle “de minimis non curat lex,” which means “the law does not take notice of very small or trifling matters.” As the Supreme Court stated, “copyright protects only those constituent elements of a work that possess more than a de minimis quantum of creativity.” Feist, 499 U.S. at 363. Works that contain no expression or only a de minimis amount of original expression are not copyrightable and cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.




Literary Works:


• Substituting the pronouns “she” and “her” for “he” and “his” in a preexisting work of authorship.


• Combining a coined term with a few short phrases that define the term.


• A Venn diagram consisting of three overlapping circles containing the names of various personality disorders and a few words and short phrases that describe the symptoms of each condition.


• A standard form contract for a real estate transaction requesting factual information from the buyer and containing standard legal language for the release of the seller’s interest in the property.


• Editing that merely consists of spelling and grammatical corrections.


Works of the Performing Arts:


• A synopsis consisting of a single sentence.


• A musical phrase consisting of three notes.


• A sound recording consisting of a single tone.


Works of the Visual Arts:


• Solitaire rings, simple diamond stud earrings, simple hoop earrings, and other jewelry designs that contain only a trivial amount of authorship.


• Touching-up an aged or damaged photograph in order to restore it to its original condition, without adding an appreciable amount of authorship to the original image.


• A public domain photograph of Winston Churchill combined with the word “Commitment” and the quotation “Never, never, never give up.”


• An outline map of South Carolina with a blue heart in the center of the design featuring the white crescent moon and white palmetto tree from the state flag.


Specific categories of literary works, works of the performing arts, and works of the visual arts that contain a de minimis amount of authorship are discussed in Chapters 700, 800, and 900.


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