When we think of the kinds of things that can be copyrighted, we often think of types of expression, like motion pictures, drawings, paintings, screenplays, comic books, music, etc. But did you know that in addition to these works, a particularly creative arrangement or selection of materials may also be copyrighted?
In fact, if the selection or arrangement is creative enough, that arrangement can be copyright even despite the fact that what is arranged or selected may be in the public domain, and thus not itself protected by copyright!
For instance, you could register the copyright in:
• A film montage made from Charlie Chaplin's early works, even though the copyright has long since expired in those films, or
• A collage made from scraps of 19th-century advertisements, even though the copyright has long since expired in those images, or
• A particularly creative selection of words. For example, in James Lipton’s work “An Exaltation of Larks” Lipton was able to copyright the particular selection and arrangement of “terms of venery” (collective nouns for a group of animals, like a “herd” of cows, or my favorite, a “murder” of crows).
It is important to note that since it is the creativity of the selection and arrangement that is important to the granting of this kind of copyright the choices and organization of the elements must be sufficiently creative. For instance, the alphabetical listing of data is not creative enough to warrant copyright protection, nor is the chronological ordering of data.
© 2017 Thomas A. Crowell, Esq.
Thomas A. Crowell, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner at the law firm of Lane Sash & Larrabee, LLP. He focuses his practice on intellectual property and media law.
NOT LEGAL ADVICE