The Labor of Authors

   A common perception of the law of copyright is that it serves to protect the labors of the the author, especially in the area of factual compilations.  Some court decisions, in fact, misapplied the copyright act of 1909, developing a new judicial theory to justify protection of factual compilations.  This theory, known as "sweat of the brow" or "industrious collection," in effect said that copyright was a reward for the hard work that went into compiling facts.
   The "sweat of the brow" doctrine was seriously flawed in many ways.  The most obvious was the extension of copyright beyond selection and arrangement, which is  the compiler's original contribution, to the facts, themselves.  Under the doctrine, the only defense to infringement is totally independent creation where the the facts in any copyrighted work could not be used by others unless independently discovered or collected.  " 'Sweat of the brow' courts handed out proprietary interests in facts and declared that authors are absolutely precluded from saving time and effort by relying upon the facts contained in prior works.
   "In enacting the Copyright Act of 1976, Congress dropped the reference to 'all the writings of an author' and replaced it with the phrase 'original works of authorship.'"1  This made the originality requirement explicit, which Congress announced as "merely clarifying existing law."1
   The 1976 Act further identifies those specific elelments of a work not eligible for copyright protection: "In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."1  This is "universally" understood to also prohibit any copyright in facts.  This identification of specific elements not eligible for copyright protection was declared by Congress to be a clarification of prior law. 
   "Just as the copyright law does not protect 'industrious collection,' it affords no shelter to the resourceful, efficient, or creative collector.... The protection of copyright must inhere in a creatively original selection of facts to be reported and not in the creative means used to discover those facts."2



U.S. Copyright and Genealogy © 1999, 2000 by Michael Goad. All rights reserved. The pages of this site may be freely linked to. Facts and ideas from this site may be freely used. (Facts and ideas can't be copyrighted.)  None of the following may be duplicated without consent:

  • The selection and arrangement of facts and ideas located on this web site or any major portion thereof.  (The originality I've put into it.)
  • The original expression that the facts and ideas of this website are clothed in, except as allowed under the "fair use" provision of copyright law.
  • The HTML Code (i.e. page layout)  for any page or major portion thereof. (More of my originality)
  • Any original graphics unless otherwise stated. (Won't be much of this type of originality.  I'm not an artist.)


  • The government works presented here are NOT covered by the above statements as they are public domain.
  • Any material on this site that is copyrighted by others is either here by permission or is used under the provisions of fair use.
The Labor

From Creation
First Things
Just Because
No Reward
Author's Rights
The Labor
Fair Use
Is it Really?




Search's new databases! Start a FREE MyFamily website!



Our Other Sites:
Karens Quilts
Stellar Books & things