Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)
The Supreme Court case, Feist Publications, Inc, v. Rural Telephone Service shows two arguments on issues of copyrighting facts. The case emerged when Feist Publication included numbers from Rural Telephone Service to be included in their own telephone book when Rural refused to share the information, and Rural sued for copyright infringement. The two main arguments are presented: one states that fact alone cannot be copyrighted, but compilations of facts can be considered an artistic input; therefore, the expression of fact in a "collection of words" can be copyrighted. However, the compilation of facts require a minimum degree of originality, and since copyright law only applies to creative aspects of the two dimensional work, a list of A-Z phonebook does not satisfy enough creativity or artistic merit to be qualified for copyright protection.
The Court ruled that Rural's listings did not meet the standards for “minimum creativity” and that the use of the listings did not constitute infringement. This decision emphasizes that copyright only extends protection to originality, not the amount of effort put into the creation of an artwork.
This recent case showcases a judicial activism in which the court uses aesthetic qualities to judge whether this particular compilation of facts, via phonebook, is under copyright protection. However, this decision complicates my argument greatly. Under Bleistein v. Donaldson, any artwork of a value should be granted copyright. Looking at the monetary value that the phonebook contains, the copyright should be granted, however its evidently low artistic value disqualifies the work of any copyright infringement. What is the minimum balance of artistic/tangible value that would grant a two dimensional artwork a copyright protection? Also, the case brings up demonstration of minimal originality as part of the qualification. The court only so far answers the question by saying that listing of facts is not providing enough creativity. Where does the line lie for minimal creativity? Aesthetic determination of the work seemed crucial in this case, for if the copyright was granted, the value of art in current society will diminish because creation of artwork has become so effortless and widespread, but perhaps it was because no clear quantitative standard to judging “minimum originality” was set by the legislature or the judiciary. The case weighs in on the necessity of aesthetic decision to promote progress, but also demonstrates that while aesthetic decision is good for case-by-case studies, it shows that lack of quantitative standards created inconsistency in what society has perceived as norms and requirements for a copyright protection over time.