Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co.

Citation: 499 U.S. 340
Docket Number: 89-1909
Judge: O'Connor
Opinion Date: March 27, 1991

Rural Telephone Service Company and Feist Publications, Inc., are both publishers of telephone directories. When Rural refused to license its white pages listings to Feist for a directory covering 11 different telephone service areas, Feist extracted the listings it needed from Rural’s directory without Rural’s consent. Although Feist altered many of Rural’s listings, several were identical to listings in Rural’s white pages. The District Court granted summary judgment to Rural in its copyright infringement suit, holding that telephone directories are copyrightable. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that Rural’s white pages did not meet the constitutional or statutory requirements for copyright protection, stating that, originality, not “sweat of the brow,” is the touchstone of copyright protection in directories and other fact-based works. Raw data are uncopyrightable facts, and the way in which Rural selected, coordinated, and arranged those facts was not original in any way. Copyright rewards originality, not effort.

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