Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service
The ruling was an interpretation of copyright law.
The Rural Telephone Service Company was a small telephone company in Kansas. It published a directory of the names and telephone numbers of its subscribers. Feist Publications prepared regional telephone books. They started to prepare a regional telephone book that would have included Rural's subscribers and those of ten other municipalities. Feist opened negotiations with the eleven telephone companies in the region of this new phone book. The other ten telephone companies agreed to license Feist to re-use their subscriber list in compiling their regional phone book. Rural held out. Feist then had the subscribers in Rural's phone book typed in, and included in its regional phone book.
Rural sued Feist for violating its copyright.
Eventually, in 1991 after several appeals to higher courts, the case arrived at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled against Rural. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the judgment. The Supreme Court ruled that "facts" couldn't be copyright, and that simple lists of "facts" couldn't be copyright. According to Linda Greenhouse, writing in the New York Times, O'Connor said:
- "Without a doubt, the 'sweat of the brow' doctrine flouted basic copyright principles."
- "Rural expended sufficient effort to make the white pages directory useful, but insufficient creativity to make it original."
- Feist Publications, inc. v. Rural Tel. Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), United States Supreme Court, March 27, 1991. Retrieved on 2008-04-28.
- Linda Greenhouse. Court Limits Copyright Protection, New York Times, March 28, 1991. Retrieved on 2008-04-25. “Writing for the Court today, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that 'copyright rewards originality, not effort,' and that 'in no event may copyright extend to the facts themselves.' In the case of the white pages, she said, alphabetical listings of names and addresses 'do not satisfy the minimum constitutional standards for copyright protection' because they are 'devoid of even the slightest trace of creativity.'”