Individual numbers are not copyrightable and cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Likewise, the Office cannot register a claim to copyright in values expressed in individual numbers, individual letters, or individual words.
Individual numbers are never copyrightable for the same reason that an individual word cannot be protected by copyright. See Southco, Inc. v. Kanebridge Corp., 390 F.3d 276, 286-87 (3d Cir. 2004) (holding that the regulatory bar against registering “short phrases” logically extends to short sequences of numbers). An individual number is a common symbol that is not independently created and does not, in itself, reveal any creativity. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (A); see also Chapter 300, Section 313.4(J). Nor does it fit within the established categories of copyrightable subject matter set forth in Section 102 (A) of the statute. See 17 U.S.C. § 102 (A). While the Copyright Act states that literary works may be expressed in “numbers” or “numerical symbols,” a critical element in the statutory definition is that there must be a “work” that is expressed in some combination of “words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia.” See 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “literary works”). In other words, a work that includes numbers may constitute a literary work, but it does not follow that a number contained in the literary work alone contains sufficient expression to constitute a work, or that such an element alone constitutes copyrightable authorship.
A compilation of numbers may be registered if there is a sufficient amount of creativity in the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of data. However, the registration for a compilation does not create a presumption that the individual numbers are copyrightable as independent works or as independent authorship.
The authorship involved in selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging the copyrightable and uncopyrightable elements of a compilation must be perceptible in the deposit copy(ies). See Chapter 300, Section 312.2. While the process of deriving a particular number or value may be creative, any such creativity is not perceptible in a number alone. An individual number in and of itself never comprises sufficient authorship to be copyrightable. Copyright protects expression, not ideas or processes, and an individual number itself is not, and does not reveal, any copyrightable expression.
Moreover, the statutory definition of a compilation states that the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of preexisting material or data must be done “in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.” 17 U.S.C. § 101; see also Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 358 (1991). The process of arriving at individual numbers or values may require judgment, prediction, valuation, or expertise, but an individual number does not express any selection, coordination, or arrangement that results in an original work of authorship. Mental processes and methods of operations are unfixed and they are exempt from copyright protection under Section 102 (B) of the statute.