Questioning Copyright in Standards

Interoperability, Intellectual Property, Copyright and Trademark and Standards

Article Snapshot


Pamela Samuelson


Boston College Law Review, Vol. 48, 2007


This article asks if the systematic collection of data can be protected by copyright.

Policy Relevance

Several doctrines in copyright law limit whether a systematic compilation of data is protectable by copyright law. Generally, such protection is not necessary.

Main Points

  • Widespread adoption of uniform standards is essential to the smooth operation of our modern global economy.
  • When private organizations develop such standards, copyright protection of those standards often creates a conflict between private intellectual property rights and society’s needs for standards.
    • This conflict is especially apparent when a local or state government adopts a privately drafted standard as law.
  • This article considers whether coding system standards should be eligible for copyright protection as a matter of U.S. copyright law by examining the case law’s treatment of copyright protection for coding system standards and considering the policy concerns implicated by copyrights in standards.
  • The article concludes that, in light of case law, the statutory exclusion of systems from U.S. copyright protection, the merger of idea and expression doctrines, and broader policy considerations, standards should fall outside the scope of U.S. copyright protection.

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