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Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991) p119


Copyrightable material - facts


Telephone utility brought copyright infringement action against a publisher of an area-wide telephone directory for publisher's use of listings in utility's local white pages. Rural publishes a typical telephone directory, consisting of white pages and yellow pages.

It obtains data for the directory from subscribers, who must provide their names and addresses to obtain telephone service. Petitioner Feist Publications, Inc., is a publishing company that specializes in area-wide telephone directories covering a much larger geographic range than directories such as Rural's. When Rural refused to license its white pages listings to Feist for a directory covering 11 different telephone service areas, Feist extracted the listings it needed from Rural's directory without Rural's consent. Although Feist altered many of Rural's listings, several were identical to listings in Rural's white pages.


The United States District Court for the District of Kansas, Richard Dean Rogers, held that the white pages were copyrightable, and the publisher appealed. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, affirmed. Certiorari was granted.


Whether the listing of facts (telephone numbers and names in a phonebook) are copyrightable.


Facts are not copyrightable.


The Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor, held that: (1) names, towns and telephone numbers of utility's subscribers were uncopyrightable facts, and (2) these bits of information were not selected, coordinated, or arranged in an original way in white pages that utility was required to publish under state law, and hence white pages did not meet constitutional or statutory requirements for copyright protection. Rural's white pages are not entitled to copyright, and therefore Feist's use of them does not constitute infringement.


The constitutional requirement necessitates independent creation plus a modicum of creativity. Since facts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship, they are not original, and thus are not copyrightable. The Copyright Act of 1976 and its predecessor, the Copyright Act of 1909, leave no doubt that originality is the touchstone of copyright protection in directories and other fact-based works. Even a compilation that is copyrightable receives only limited protection, for the copyright does not extend to facts contained in the compilation. Rural's white pages do not meet the constitutional or statutory requirements for copyright protection. there is nothing remotely creative about arranging names alphabetically in a white pages directory. It is an age-old practice, firmly rooted in tradition and so commonplace that it has come to be expected as a matter of course.


"Sweat of the brow" rule has been disregarded. Does not matter how long it took to compile the facts.