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

PETITIONER: Feist Publications, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc.
LOCATION: Clark County Jail

DOCKET NO.: 89-1909
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 499 US 340 (1991)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 1991
DECIDED: Mar 27, 1991

ADVOCATES:
James M. Caplinger, Jr. - Argued the cause for the respondent
Kyler Knobbe - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc. is a public utility that provides telephone service to several communities in northwest Kansas. Rural also publishes a telephone directory that consists of white and yellow pages. Feist Publications, Inc. is a publishing company that specializes in area-wide telephone directories that cover a much larger geographic range than Rural's directories. When Rural refused to license its white pages listings to Feist, Feist extracted the listings it needed from Rural's directory without 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.

Question

Does the copyright in a telephone company's directory protect the names, towns, and telephone numbers copied by another telephone directory company?

Media for Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 09, 1991 in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 27, 1991 in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-1909 Feist Publications, Inc. verus Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc. will be announced by Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes to us on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

It requires us to clarify the extent of copyright protection available to telephone directory white pages.

The respondent, Rural Telephone Service Company, is a certified public utility providing telephone service to several communities in Kansas.

Pursuant to state regulation, it publishes a typical telephone directory consisting of white pages and yellow pages.

The petitioner, Feist Publications, publishes a competing telephone directory covering a larger area.

When Rural refused to license its white pages listings to Feist for directory covering 11 different telephone service areas, Feist copied more than 1,300 listings from Rural's directory without the consent of Rural.

Rural sued for copyright infringement.

The United States District Court for the District of Kansas granted summary judgment to Rural, holding that telephone directories are copyrightable and that there was infringement.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

In an opinion filed today, we reverse.

We explained that a fundamental principle of a copyright law is that facts are not copyrightable.

This is because, as a matter of both constitutional and statutory law, a work qualifies for copyright protection only if it is original.

Original, as that term is used in copyright, means that the work was independently created by the author and that it possess a least some minimal degree of creativity.

No one may claim originality as to facts because facts are not created by the author.

They are merely discovered and reported.

One may, however, claim originality in the way facts are selected, coordinated, or arranged.

These choices by an author, so long as they entail some minimal degree of creativity, are sufficiently original to qualify for copyright protection.

We conclude in this case that Feist, by taking 1,300 listings from Rural's white pages did not copy anything that was original to Rural.

The bits of data contained in the listings are uncopyrightable facts.

Rural did not select, coordinate, or arranged these facts in an original way.

Rurals selection and arrangement were obvious.

The list is alphabetical by name of subscriber, town, and telephone of each of its subscribers.

This is a frequent and age-old practice so common placed that it has come to be expected as a manner of course.

Because Rural's white pages are the void of creativity, Feist did not violate the copyright laws by copying them.

The opinion is joined by eight members of the court.

Justice Blackmun concurs in the judgment.