To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original to the author. Original, as the term is used in copyright, means only that the work was independently created by the author and that it possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity. Originality does not signify novelty; a work may be original even though it closely resembles other works so long as the similarity is fortuitous, not the result of copying.
Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc. (Plaintiff) provides telephone service to several communities. Due to a state regulation, it must issue an annual telephone directory, so it published a directory consisting of white and yellow pages. The yellow pages have advertisements that generate revenue. Feist Publications, Inc. (Defendant) is a publishing company whose directory covers a larger range than a typical directory. Defendant distributes their telephone books free of charge, and they also generate revenue through the advertising in the yellow pages. Plaintiff refused to give a license to Defendant for the phone numbers in the area, so Defendant used them without Plaintiff’s consent. Rural sued for copyright infringement.
Can the names, addresses, and phone numbers in a telephone directory be copyrighted?
Facts cannot be subject to copyright laws; otherwise there would be no spreading of information or learning. Subjecting facts to copyright laws would mean that any time a person used a fact found in a book, be it in a school paper, newspaper, or another book, that person would be guilty of piracy. Facts cannot be copyrighted, however compilations of facts can generally be copyrighted.
To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original to the author, which means that the work was independently created by the author, and it possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity. A work may be original even thought it closely resembles other works so long as the similarity is fortuitous, not the result of copying.
Facts are not original. The first person to find and report a particular fact has not created the fact; he has merely discovered its existence. Facts may not be copyrighted and are part of the public domain available to every person.