A collective work is a compilation in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole.
The “authorship” in a collective work comes from the original selection, coordination, and arrangement of the independent works included in the collective work.
Under the Copyright Act, a collective work is considered one work for purposes of registration. A registration for a collective work covers the copyrightable authorship in the selection, coordination, or arrangement of the work. A registration for a collective work covers the collective work as a whole and may cover the individual works contained in it if (1) the collective work and the individual works are owned by the same party, (2) the individual works have not been previously published or previously registered, and (3) the individual works are not in the public domain.
For purposes of registration, representative examples of collective works include
- A newspaper, magazine, or other periodical containing multiple articles, illustrations, and photographs
- An anthology containing multiple poems, short stories, or essays
- An online encyclopedia containing multiple articles, entries, or postings on various topics
- An album containing multiple sound recordings that embody multiple musical works
- A DVD containing a motion picture, theatrical trailers, deleted scenes, and audio commentary from the director
A collective work is not
- A single unified work that contains separate parts or elements, such as
a novel consisting of multiple chapters
a song with melody, harmony, and rhythm
a drawing in pencil and ink
a carpet design of overlapping figures and colors
an architectural work or technical drawing with multiple illustrations of the same object
an illustrated children’s book created by one author
- A unified work created by multiple authors, such as
a musical with script, music, and lyrics by two or more authors
a motion picture with screenplay, soundtrack, directing, acting, cinematography, costume design,
visual effects, or other production elements contributed by multiple authors
a children’s book created by a writer and illustrator in collaboration with each other
- A single contribution to a collective work
Contribution to a Collective Work
A contribution to a collective work is a separate and independent work that is included within a collective work. A contribution to a collective work can be registered separately from the collective work or in combination with the collective work if certain requirements are met.
Examples of separate and independent works within a collective work include
- An article within a periodical
- A song included on an album
- Separate articles and photographs that appear in a newspaper
Registration of a Collective Work with Its Individual Works
A collective work and its individual works can be registered on one application with one filing fee only if
- Each work within the collective work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship;
- The copyright in the collective work and the copyright in the individual works is owned by the same party; and
- The individual works have not been previously published or previously registered.
For example, an album that contains multiple sound recordings that embody multiple musical compositions is considered a collective work for purposes of registration. Typically, the party that owns the copyright in the sound recordings also owns the copyright in the album, because that party is usually responsible for creating the album as a whole. If that is the case, the album and the multiple sound recordings can be registered together on one application as a collective work (assuming the recordings have not been published or registered before).
If the copyright owner of the album owns both the sound recordings and the musical compositions that are embodied in each recording, then the album, the musical compositions, and the sound recordings can be registered together on one application as a collective work (assuming the compositions and the recordings have not been published or registered before).
By contrast, if the copyright owner of the album does not own the copyright in the musical compositions (or vice versa), or if the compositions have been previously published, then each composition must be registered separately as an individual contribution to the collective work.
If you submit multiple works with one application, and the Copyright Office determines that the works can be registered together as a collective work, the Office may add an annotation to the certificate, such as “basis for registration: collective work.” As a general rule, the Office will not annotate the certificate if you expressly assert a claim in the “collective work” or the “compilation.”
Scope of a Registration for a Collective Work
A collective work is considered a single work for purposes of calculating statutory damages; therefore, registering a collective work together with the individual works contained in it may have important consequences in an infringement action. Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act states that a copyright owner may be entitled to recover “an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the [infringement] action, with respect to any one work,” and “[f]or the purposes of this subsection, all the parts of a compilation . . . constitute one work.” The statute also states that a collective work is, by definition, a compilation. Thus, when you register a number of individual works as part of a collective work, you may be entitled to seek one award of statutory damages for the collective work as a whole rather than a separate award for each individual work, even if the defendant infringed all of those works.