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

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509.1 What Is a Collective Work?


509.1 What Is a Collective Work?

A collective work is a type of compilation. The Copyright Act defines a collective work as “a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology, or encyclopedia, in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole.” 17 U.S.C. § 101. The statute also states that “[t]he term ‘compilation’ includes collective works.” Id. (definition of “compilation”). Thus, collective works are subject to the statutory requirements for compilations: There must be a sufficiently creative selection, coordination, or arrangement of the component works to establish a collective work.


Creating a collective work requires the “assemblage or gathering of ‘separate and independent works . . . into a collective whole.'” H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 120, reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5659, 5736; S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 104 (omission in original). In other words, collective works contain two distinct forms of authorship:


• The compilation authorship in creating the collective work, which involves selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging a number of separate and independent works and assembling them into a collective whole; and


• The authorship in the separate and independent works included within the collective work, such as an article that appears in a periodical issue or a poem that appears in an anthology.


An applicant may register a collective work together with the separate and independent works contained therein (I) if the copyright in the collective work and the component works are owned by the same claimant, and (ii) if the component works have not been previously published, previously registered, and are not in the public domain.


By definition, a collective work must contain “a number of contributions.” A work that contains “relatively few separate elements” does not satisfy this requirement, such as a work containing a single contribution, a composition that merely consists of words and music, a publication that merely combines a single work with illustrations or front matter, or a publication that merely contains three one-act plays. H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 122, reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5737; S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 105.


As a general rule, a contribution that is “incorporated in a ‘collective work’ must itself constitute a ‘separate and independent’ work.” H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 122, reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5737; S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 105. In other words, a contribution must be an original work of authorship that is eligible for copyright protection under Section 102 (A) of the Copyright Act, regardless of whether that contribution is currently protected or whether the copyright in that contribution has expired.


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