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Copyright for Compilations and Collections

Authors are generally well attuned to copyright for their separately standing works and the consequences of failing to register, but less so when it comes to shorter works accepted for publication in compilations such as collections and anthologies. Section 103 (a) of the Copyright Act states that “[t]he subject matter of copyright … includes compilations.” A “compilation” is a collection of items in which a number of separate and independent contributions are collected into an organic whole. However, § 103(b) provides that the

copyright in a compilation … extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material.

The statutory language makes clear that there are distinctions between the compilation “author” and “authors” of works collected in the compilation. Section 103 tells us that a compilation can be copyrighted, but it “does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material.” In fact, “[t]he copyright in such work is independent of” the copyrights in the included works. The provision continues:

The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

What rights a compiler may have depends on the nature of the relationship with the author and of the material collected in the compilation. The copyright in the compilation or collection is one form of protection; a separate copyright in the component works is another. Depending upon whether the grant of rights to poetry or short story is exclusive or nonexclusive to the compiler, to be fully copyright protected requires the compiler to register his copyright and the author to register hers. Poetry and short stories included in the compilation that are copyrightable are separately entitled to copyright protection.

The published compiled volume should include two different notices to effectively comply with the Copyright Act. There should be a compilation notice (which protects the author/compiler) and separate authorial notices for the included works (which protect the contributors). (As a separate note, materials included in a compilation that have fallen into the public domain, poetry and short stories for example, do not spring back to copyright life or in any way benefit a deceased author’s estate. The works remain available for use by the public, except to the extent that the compiler has added copyrightable additions:

The copyright in a compilation … extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work.

Infringement that violates the rights of the compiler may also violate the rights of a contributing author, but without a registered copyright of her own the author has no recourse. Why attention to statutory requirements is important is illustrated in cases adjudicating copyright claims of infringement of photographs. What is true of photographs also applies to poetry and short stories. In Bean v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., CV 11-08028 (D. AZ August 3, 2011) the defendant claimed the photographs had no copyright protection because the registration did not comply with the registration requirements of the Copyright Act. The Court in a separate prior action in which Bean had sued Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., (unpublished decision) concluded that “Corbis’s registration of six compilations containing thousands of photographs by different authors was not effective in registering the individual works in the compilations to the individual authors.”

The Copyright Office does not specifically address registrations works included in a compilation and it is unclear precisely what the law requires the compiler to do. The most recent announcement on this issue is Pacific Stock v. Pearson Education, Inc., 11000423 (D. Hawaii January 11, 2012). The defendant argued that plaintiff did not have valid copyrights for individual works registered only as parts of compilations of various artists. The message from Pacific Stock and other cases, including a 2010 case from the Southern District of New York, Muench Photography, Inc. v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 712 F.Supp.2d 84, 95 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) is that while group registrations are valid as to the compilations they do not protect the individual works. Therefore, the prudent course is for the compiler to include copyright notices for all contributions including the compiler’s and an author to separately register her own copyright.

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