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Under the Copyright Act, a compilation is a "work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship. The term compilation includes collective works17 U.S.C. 101. This gives the compilation a separate copyright from any of the individual pieces within it. An author who creates a compilation owns the copyright of the compilation but not of the component parts. The author can compile material even if someone else owns the copyright, but the author must get the rights holders’ permission to do so. 

A compilation of mere facts may not be copyrighted. Instead, a compilation may only be copyrighted if there is a creative or original act involved, i.e., in the selection and arrangement of materials. The protection is limited only to the creative or original aspects of the compilation. See: 17 U.S.C. 103. 

Illustrative Cases:

See e.g., Marketing Information Masters, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of the California State University System, 552 F. Supp. 2d 1088 (2008); Close v. Sotheby's, Inc., No. 16-56234 (9th Cir. 2018); Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc. 111 S.Ct. 1282 (1991).

[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]