Legal Question in Intellectual Property in California

Copyright a Language Dictionary

In asking this question before and receiving a response it appears my question wasn’t clear, so here’s a revised version.

My understanding is that there are approximately 1,000 common use words in English. If someone were to compile a list of the exact word from various foreign languages, put it in dictionary form and create a name for the word list, could such a dictionary be copyrighted? Using French, German and Swedish foreign languages for example:

German – rechner* word for computer

French – fenētre* word for windows

Swedish – älska* word for love

Could compiling a dictionary of over 1,000 words using the asterisk word examples shown above, creating a totally different form of communication or language if you will be copyrighted as an original work? Thank you.

Asked on 12/16/08, 2:06 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Michael Stone Law Offices of Michael B. Stone Toll Free 1-855-USE-MIKE

Re: Copyright a Language Dictionary

This question comes up often in copyright law.

What you have is a compilation of material that is not itself copyrightable, and the issue is whether compiling otherwise public domain information creates an original work for which copyright protection can be claimed. A white pages phone book is a good example of such a compilation. Please look up Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340:

Publishers of directories, and maybe even dictionaries, sometimes include bogus entries to nab those who would copy the entire compilation.

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Answered on 12/16/08, 2:36 pm

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