United States Copyright Law - Works Subject To Copyright Law - Compilation of Facts and The Sweat of The Brow Doctrine

Compilation of Facts and The Sweat of The Brow Doctrine

Since facts are considered "ideas" or "discoveries", they are not copyrightable. However, compilations of facts are treated differently. The Copyright Act, ยง 103, allows copyright protection for "compilations," as long as there is some "creative" or "original" act involved in developing the compilation, such as in the selection (deciding which facts to include or exclude), and arrangement (how facts are displayed and in what order). Copyright protection in compilations is limited to the selection and arrangement of facts, not to the facts themselves.

The Supreme Court decision in Feist v. Rural clarified the requirements for copyright in compilations. The Feist case denied copyright protection to a "white pages" phone book (a compilation of telephone numbers, listed alphabetically). In making this ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the "sweat of the brow" doctrine. That is, copyright protection requires creativity, and no amount of hard work ("sweat of the brow") can transform a non-creative list (like an alphabetical listing of phone numbers) into copyrightable subject matter. A mechanical, non-selective collection of facts ordered in a non-creative way cannot be protected by copyright.

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