The only elements of a work that are entitled to copyright protection are those that are original. The "originality" standard requires that the work result from independent creation and that the author demonstrate that such creation entails a modicum of creativity. Simply stated, original means not copied, and exhibiting a minimal amount of creativity.
West Publishing Co. and West Publishing Corp. (collectively "West") publish compilations of reports of judicial opinions ("case reports"). Each case report consists of the text of the judicial opinion with enhancements that for the purposes of this case can be put in two categories: (i) independently composed features, such as a syllabus (which digests and heralds the opinion's general holdings), headnotes (which summarize the specific points of law recited in each opinion), and key numbers (which categorize points of law into different legal topics and subtopics), and (ii) additions of certain factual information to the text of the opinions, including parallel or alternative citations to cases, attorney information, and data on subsequent procedural history. HyperLaw, Inc. publishes compact disc-read only memory ("CD-ROM") compilations of Supreme Court and United States Court of Appeals decisions, and intervened as a plaintiff to seek a judgment declaring that the individual West case reports that are left after redaction of the first category of alterations (i.e., the independently composed features), do not contain copyrightable material. West now appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Martin, J.), following a bench trial, granting declaratory judgment in favor of HyperLaw. Matthew Bender & Co. v. West Publ'g Co., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6915, No. 94 Civ. 0589, 1997 WL 266972 (S.D.N.Y. May 19, 1997).
Did the defendant's alterations to the case reports demonstrate sufficient originality and creativity to be copyrightable?
The Court affirmed the district court's finding that defendant's alteration of opinions did not reflect an exercise of originality or creativity, in part because defendant's realistic options were limited. The Court could not find that the conclusion was unreasonable. In addition, affording these decisions copyright protection could give defendant an effective monopoly over commercial publication of case reports.