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

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919.1 Copyrightable Authorship in Maps

919.1 Copyrightable Authorship in Maps

Maps are cartographic or visual representations of an area. Examples include terrestrial maps and atlases, marine charts, celestial maps, as well as three-dimensional works, such as globes and relief models. A map may represent a real or imagined place, such as a map in a book or videogame that depicts a fictional country.

Maps are not considered useful articles for purposes of registration, because their only utilitarian function is to convey information. 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “useful article”). As such, they are not subject to the separability test described in Section 924.3.

The U.S. Copyright Office will register maps, globes, and other cartographic works if they display a sufficient amount of original pictorial or sculptural authorship.

The Office may register an original selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of cartographic features, such as roads, lakes, or rivers, cities, or political or geographic boundaries. But to be copyrightable, the work as a whole must be creative. In making this determination, the Office will not consider the amount of effort required to create the work, such as surveying or cartographic field work.

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