Decision provides guidance on registering a copyright for web pages

Plaintiff Darden filed an application with the Copyright Office to register his claim of copyright in the text, maps and formatting of the website The Copyright Office denied the application, and this denial was affirmed each time during two reconsiderations within the Copyright Office. Noting that in general, the formatting of web pages is not copyrightable, the examiners determined, among other things, that Darden’s claim of copyright was too broad: the website as a whole lacked the requisite amount of originality to sustain registration.

Darden sought review in federal court of the Copyright Office’s adverse decision. However, the court affirmed the decision, holding that the denial was not an abuse of discretion. The court determined that the examiners at the Copyright Office had “intelligently account[ed]” for the denial via “reasoned decision making.”

The real problem with Darden’s application was that he was trying to claim copyright not just in the specific textual and graphical elements of the site, but was trying to claim copyright in the basic way the website was laid out. The “unoriginal formatting elements” and “uncreative layout” are not subject to protection, thus could not be included in the registration. The examiners had explained:

[T]he longstanding practice of the Copyright Office is to deny registration of the arrangement of elements on the basis of physical or directional layout in a given space, whether that space is a sheet of paper or a screen of space meant for information displayed digitally.

Accordingly, the Copyright Office was correct when it denied Darden a copyright registration for the style in which many web pages are formatted.

Darden v. Peters, — F.Supp.2d —, 2005 WL 3370676 (E.D.N.C., December 6, 2005).