What Is the Meaning of Compilation on Copyright?

By Jennifer Mueller

U.S. copyright protects original creative work once it is fixed in some tangible form, regardless of whether it is published. Creators, or authors, of the work, enjoy the exclusive right to duplicate, distribute, display and perform their work, as well as create derivative works based on the original. Authors may also license others to exercise any of these rights under contract. A compilation is a type of creative work eligible for copyright protection under the U.S. Copyright Act.


Under U.S. copyright law, a compilation is a work created by selecting and arranging previously existing material in such a way that the combined whole constitutes a new work of authorship. The copyright in the compilation extends solely to the work of the author, not the underlying pieces that make up the compilation. For example, if an author creates a book of “The 20 Most Controversial Short Stories,” he acquires a copyright for the compilation. That copyright protects only that author’s original selection of the 20 stories he selected. The compilation copyright does not extend to the stories themselves, but merely the arrangement of them.

Selection and Arrangement

For a compilation to be eligible for copyright protection, something about the way the editor of the compilation has selected and arranged the pieces must be creative, at least in a minimal way. For example, an author has written four short stories, all of which are in the public domain. If another published an anthology merely containing all four stories, that anthology would not be eligible for copyright protection. There is no creativity involved in simply publishing all of them. Similarly, there is not enough creativity involved in using a standard or routine method of organization, such as alphabetical order, to render a compilation eligible for copyright protection.

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Facts and Public Domain

A compilation copyright is thin, and protects only the contribution of the author who created the compilation. Facts themselves are not copyrightable. A compilation may be created of some combination of works that are in the public domain, but this does not remove them from the public domain. The individual works may still be used freely, but they may not be reproduced and distributed in a way that mimics the organization or combination used by the compiling author. For example, a compilation of “The 117 Most Fascinating Facts About Toilets” would be entitled to a compilation copyright. Another author would remain free to create her own compilation of “The 50 Most Disturbing Facts About Toilets,”, using some of the same facts contained in the first compilation, without infringing the first author’s copyright.

Contributing Authors

Many compilations are composed of facts or works in the public domain, but compilations are also compiled using currently copyrighted works. The compilation copyright does not provide protection for the individual works themselves; rather, it protects only the particular arrangement of those works together in one unit. Thus, if a young author finds her short story included in an anthology titled “The 27 Greatest Emerging Authors,” she should be aware that the compilation copyright of the anthology does not extend to the words of her short story. Without some licensing agreement with the compilation's author, the young author retains the copyright and all exclusive rights in her short story, and the compiler needs her permission to use her story.

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Are Advertising Brochures Copyrighted?


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Originality and Copyright Laws

Copyright laws protect a wide range of works, including novels, songs, photographs, movies and computer programs. A copyright holder can file an infringement lawsuit against anyone who uses his work without permission. The issue of originality usually arises in an infringement lawsuit when the defendant claims that the copyright is invalid because the work is not original.

Is an Original Work Without a Copyright Label or Disclaimer Still Protected by Copyright Laws?

Copyright infringement can carry civil and criminal penalties, and many people mistakenly believe that items are copyrighted only when there is a copyright symbol or when the copyrights are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, copyrights are automatic, and creators do not have to use a copyright symbol or register their creations in order to obtain copyright protection.

Are Commercials Copyrighted?

With the free accessibility of information and creative content over the Internet, it can be hard to know what is legally available to take and enjoy for free. It can be confusing to realize that something that may be free and legal to enjoy in one context may not be in another context. Most people think of commercials as a free bit of advertising that they are subjected to when they watch television or listen to the radio. Just because a commercial is broadcast for free through certain media does not mean that it is legal for anybody to upload the commercial on YouTube or post it for download on a website. Commercials are copyrighted, and only authorized parties may broadcast, copy or distribute them.


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