As a general rule, facts cannot be copyrighted. However, copyright protection may be available for the creative selection, coordination and arrangement of factual information and materials forming a database or compilation. In such cases, copyright protection extends only to the creative aspect of the work, not to the facts contained in the database or compilation.
A “fact compilation” is created by selecting data that is in the public domain like names, addresses, and telephone numbers and arranging the data in some minimally creative manner. Almanacs, catalogues, and other databases are also examples of fact compilations.
To qualify for copyright protection, compilation of facts must meet three distinct elements:
- the work must be a collection and assembly of pre-existing material, facts, or data;
- the work must contain the selection, coordination, or arrangement of those materials; and
- the work is created by virtue of the particular selection, coordination, or arrangement of an original work of authorship.
Copyright is not available for mere collection and assembling of facts and information. As with all other works, compilations are also eligible for copyright protection only if the originality requirement, “an original work of authorship,” is met. However the originality requirement for compilation of facts is not very stringent. In fact, the selection or arrangement methods that others have used may unknowingly be used; novelty is not required. For the originality requirement, the author needs only to make the arrangement or selection independently, without copying the selection or arrangement from another work, and also display some minimal level of creativity. While most factual compilations will pass this test, there will be a small number of works wherein the creative spark is completely lacking or so minimal that it can be considered as virtually nonexistent. Therefore there will invariably be some fact-based works in which the selection, coordination, and arrangement are not sufficiently original to trigger copyright protection in any way at all.
Originality may occur in the selection of the material to be included in a compilation. If it is truly original, the selection may be a part of the protected portion of a compilation. On the other hand, if the selection of the material is made through the use of formulas, procedures, or other non-original techniques, protection of the selection is not likely. This is because such acts of selection are not considered as acts of authorship, but only as techniques for the discovery of facts.
According to the copyright law, the term ‘compilation’ includes collective works as well. A copyrightable compilation enjoys only limited protection. The copyright only covers the author’s original contribution — not the facts or information conveyed.