Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), commonly called just Feist v. Rural, was a United States Supreme Court case in which Feist had copied information from Rural's telephone listings to include in its own, after Rural had refused to license the information. Rural had sued for copyright infringement. The Court ruled that information contained in Rural's phone directory was not copyrightable, and that therefore no infringement existed.
Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc. is a telephone cooperative providing services for areas in northwest Kansas. The company was under a statutory obligation to compile a phone directory of all their customers free of charge as a condition of their monopoly franchise.
Feist Publications, Inc. specialized in compiling telephone directories from larger geographic areas than Rural from other areas of Kansas. They had licensed the directory of 11 other local directories, with Rural being the only hold-out in the region. Despite Rural's denial of a license to Feist, Feist copied some 4000 entries from Rural's directory. Because Rural had placed a small number of phony entries to detect copying, Feist was caught.
Prior to this case, the substance of copyright in United States law followed the sweat of the brow doctrine, which gave copyright to anyone who invested significant amount of time and energy into their work. At trial and appeal level the courts followed this doctrine, siding with Rural.
The ruling of the Court was written by Justice O'Connor. It examined the purpose of copyright and explained the standard of copyrightability as based on originality.
It is a long-standing principle of United States copyright law that "information" is not copyrightable, O'Connor notes, but "collections" of information can be. Rural claimed a collection copyright in its directory. The court clarified that the intent of copyright law was not, as claimed by Rural and some lower courts, to reward the efforts of persons collecting information, but rather "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" (U.S. Const. 1.8.8), that is, to encourage creative expression.
Since facts are purely copied from the world around us, O'Connor concludes, "the sine qua non of copyright is originality". However, the standard for creativity is extremely low. It need not be novel, rather it only needs to possess a "spark" or "minimal degree" of creativity to be protected by copyright.
In regard to collections of facts, O'Connor states that copyright can only apply to the creative aspects of collection: the creative choice of what data to include or exclude, the order and style in which the information is presented, etc., but not on the information itself. If Feist were to take the directory and rearrange them it would destroy the copyright owned in the data.
The court ruled that Rural's directory was nothing more than an alphabetic list of all subscribers to its service, which it was required to compile under law, and that no creative expression was involved. The fact that Rural spent considerable time and money collecting the data was irrelevant to copyright law, and Rural's copyright claim was dismissed.
The ruling has major implications for any project that serves as a collection of knowledge. Information (that is, facts, discoveries, etc.), from any source, is fair game, but cannot contain any of the "expressive" content added by the source author. That includes not only the author's own comments, but also his choice of which facts to cover, his choice of which links to make among the bits of information, his order of presentation (unless it is something obvious like an alphabetical list), any evaluations he may have made about the quality of various pieces of information, or anything else that might be considered "original creative work" of the author rather than mere facts.
For example, a recipe is a process, and not copyrightable, but the words used to describe it are; see idea-expression divide and Publications International v Meredith Corp. (1996). Therefore, you can rewrite a recipe in your own words and publish it without infringing copyrights. But, if you rewrote every recipe from a particular cookbook, you might still be found to have infringed the author's copyright in the choice of recipes and their "coordination" and "presentation", even if you used different words; however, the West decisions below suggest that this is unlikely unless there is some significant creativity carried over from the original presentation.
Feist proved most important in the area of copyright of legal case law publications. Another case covering this area is Assessment Technologies v. Wiredata (2003), in which the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a copyright holder in a compilation of public domain data cannot use that copyright to prevent others from using the underlying public domain data, but may only restrict the specific format of the compilation, if that format is itself sufficiently creative. Assessment Technologies also held that it is a fair use of a copyrighted work to reverse engineer that work in order to gain access to uncopyrightable facts. Assessment Technologies also created new law, stating that it is a copyright misuse and an abuse of process if one attempts to use a contract or license agreement based on one's copyright to protect uncopyrightable facts.
In the late 1990s, Congress attempted to pass laws which would protect collections of data, but these measures failed. By contrast, the European Union has a sui generis (specific to that type of work) intellectual property protection for collections of data.
Краткие справки об авторах полученных консультаций
Samantha Holman has been CEO of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency (ICLA) since 2001. ICLA represents authors' and publishers' rights particularly in relation to reprography. She is also on two national voluntary boards, the Copyright Association of Ireland and the Irish Visual Artists' Rights Organisation (of which she is a founder member). In addition, she is the national representative to the Executive Committee of ALAI (Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale).
Anthony R. Flambard
Dr. Anthony R. Flambard, studied chemistry at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, receiving doctorate there in catalysis and surface chemistry in 1982.
In 1987, he joined the German Government-sponsored “Chemistry Information Centre” (CIC) and was seconded as Associate Editor to the Chemical Abstracts Service in Columbus, Ohio, USA for a year. Between 1994 and 1998 he was Editor-in-Chief of a large scientific editorial office at the CIC in Berlin, before becoming its Head of Marketing & Sales in 1999. He also headed the Centre’s Department of Northern and Eastern Relations with its focus on the countries of Scandinavia, Eastern Central Europe and the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union.
Between 1995 and 2004 he was permanent member of the BMBF’s Specialist Information Delegation within the frame of the German-Russian Co-Operative Agreement on Information and Documentation. In 2001 he was also appointed expert of the Commission of the EU (Directorate General “Information Society”).
In 2005, Dr. Flambard moved to the Jülich Project Management Organisation (PtJ) with its offices in both Jülich and Berlin, where he is responsible for various projects, including “ACENET”.During his career, Dr. Flambard has worked in many R&D projects of the BMBF and the EU Commission and has participated in numerous national and international committees, working groups and other activities.
Teresa Hackett is the Manager of EIFL-IP "Advocacy for Access to Knowledge: copyright and libraries", a programme of EIFL, an international not-for-profit organisation that works with libraries to enable sustainable access to high quality digital information for people in developing and transition countries. The EIFL-IP programme seeks to protect and promote the interests of EIFL libraries and their users in copyright issues at national level and in international policy fora. Teresa was the Director of the European library association (EBLIDA) from 2000-2003; before that provided technical support to the European Commission library research programme, and was part of the team to establish electronic information centres at the British Council in Germany. Teresa has a special interest in legal issues in information work, especially in the electronic environment. She is currently a member of the Copyright and Other Legal Matters Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA-CLM).