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

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906.7 Naturally Occurring and Discovered Material


906.7 Naturally Occurring and Discovered Material


Because human authorship is required for copyright protection, the U.S. Copyright Office will not register naturally occurring objects or materials that are discovered in nature.


This includes natural objects or materials with standard wear or acute breaks or fissures resulting from weather conditions or other natural phenomena, such as water currents, wind, rain, lightning, sunlight, heat, or cold. Similarly, the Office will refuse to register a work that is created through naturally occurring processes or events, such as the resulting visual appearance of an object or liquid when different chemical elements interact with each other.




• Nina Nine found a piece of driftwood that was smoothed by ocean currents. She carved an intricate seagull design in the side of the driftwood, polished it, and submitted an application to register the overall work. Although there is no human authorship in the driftwood itself, the registration specialist may register the seagull carving if it is sufficiently creative.


• Felipe French found a stone with deep grooves. Felipe brought the stone to his studio, polished it, mounted it on a brass plate, and submitted it for registration. The registration specialist will refuse registration because the stone’s appearance was the result of a naturally occurring phenomenon and the polishing and mounting were merely de minimis.


• Natalia Night creates a sticker made of two clear plastic sheets bonded together with a small amount of colored liquid petroleum between the sheets. Due to the way petroleum naturally behaves, any slight pressure on the outside of the sticker creates undulating patterns and shapes, no two of which are ever identical. The registration specialist will refuse to register this sticker because the specific outlines and contours of the patterns and shapes formed by the liquid petroleum were not created by Natalia, but instead were created by a naturally occurring phenomenon.


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