Bensen on Darden v. Peters

Bensen on Darden v. Peters


In Darden v. Peters, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that the Copyright Office did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Darden’s copyright application (the Supreme Court denied Darden’s petition for writ of certiorari on February 25, 2008). The application attempted to register a derivative work that consisted of the addition of color, shading, and labels to preexisting black and white Census maps. Discussing the case, in which the courts found that the map changes lacked even the minimal level of creativity required for copyright protection, Eric E. Bensen begins:
 
     Darden created a web based referral service through which consumers could locate real estate appraisers that had, as its central feature, a series of maps to guide consumers in their selection. The homepage was a stylized map of the from which consumers could follow links to detailed state maps. Using a state map, consumers could select a county, which would lead them to a list of appraisers. To create the maps, Darden’s web designer started with preexisting digital black and white Census maps of the and the individual states and added color and shading, to give them a three-dimensional effect, and corresponding labels.
 
     Darden filed an application with the Copyright Office to register the website as a technical drawing. He described the web site as a derivative work based on “US Census black and white outline maps” and claimed copyright protection for the “graphics, text, colors, and arrangement” added to preexisting work. Darden also filed an application for copyright protection on the maps in which he claimed copyright protection for “font and color selection; visual effects such as relief, shadowing, and shading; labeling; callouts.”
 
     Both applications were rejected. The application concerning the web page was rejected, in part, because it did not contain a technical drawing and, with respect to the graphic elements, because the added material was not sufficiently original to warrant copyright protection. With respect to the application concerning the maps, the Copyright Office concluded that the labeling, relief, shadowing and shading added to the preexisting maps were standard elements that did not contain copyrightable authorship.