West Pub. Co. v. Mead Data Cent., Inc., 85-5399

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore ARNOLD and FAGG; ARNOLD; OLIVER; Brewer
Citation799 F.2d 1219
Parties, 230 U.S.P.Q. 801, 1986 Copr.L.Dec. P 25,998 WEST PUBLISHING COMPANY, Appellee, v. MEAD DATA CENTRAL, INC., Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 85-5399,85-5399
Decision Date04 September 1986

William E. Willis, New York City, for appellant.

Vance K. Opperman, Minneapolis, Minn., for appellee.

Before ARNOLD and FAGG, Circuit Judges, and OLIVER, * Senior District Judge.

ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

Mead Data Central, Inc. (MDC) appeals from a preliminary injunction issued by the District Court for the District of Minnesota 1 in a copyright-infringement action brought by West Publishing Company (West). West's claim is based upon MDC's proposed introduction of "star pagination," keyed to West's case reports, into the LEXIS system of computer-assisted legal research.

For more than a century, West has been compiling and reporting opinions of state and federal courts. West publishes these opinions in a series of books known as the "National Reporter System." Before it publishes an opinion, West checks the accuracy of case and statutory citations in the opinion and adds parallel citations, prepares MDC developed, owns, and operates LEXIS, a computer-assisted, on-line legal-research service first marketed in 1973. LEXIS, like West's National Reporter System, reports the decisions of state and federal courts. Since LEXIS's inception, MDC has included on the first computer screen of each LEXIS case report the citation to the first page of West's report of the opinion. West concedes that citation to the first page of its reports is a noninfringing "fair use" under 17 U.S.C. Sec. 107, so these citations are not at issue here.

headnotes and a synopsis for the opinion, and arranges the opinion in West's style and format. West then assigns its report of each opinion to one of the individual series in the National Reporter System, such as Federal Reporter, Second Series or Bankruptcy Reporter; this assignment is based on the court and/or the subject matter of the opinion. Next, West assigns the case to a volume in the series, further categorizes and arranges the cases within the volume, and prepares additional materials, such as indices and tables of cases, for each volume. Volumes and pages are numbered sequentially to facilitate precise reference to West reports; citing the proper volume number, series name, and page number communicates the exact location of a West report, or a portion thereof, within the National Reporter System. West represents that upon completion of each volume, it registers a copyright claim with the Register of Copyrights and receives a Certificate of Registration for the volume.

On June 24, 1985, MDC announced that it planned to add "star pagination" to the text of opinions stored in the LEXIS data-base. This new service, named the LEXIS Star Pagination Feature, was to be available to LEXIS users by September or October of 1985. This feature would insert page numbers from West's National Reporter System publications into the body of LEXIS reports, providing "jump" or "pinpoint" citations to the location in West's reporter of the material viewed on LEXIS. Thus, with the LEXIS Star Pagination Feature, LEXIS users would be able to determine the West page number corresponding to the portion of an opinion viewed on LEXIS without ever physically referring to the West publication in which the opinion appears.

In response to MDC's announcement, West brought this action, claiming, inter alia, that the LEXIS Star Pagination Feature is an appropriation of West's comprehensive arrangement of case reports in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. Secs. 101-810. West sought, and was granted, a preliminary injunction. West Publishing Co. v. Mead Data Central, Inc., 616 F.Supp. 1571 (D.Minn.1985). The District Court held that there is a substantial likelihood that West's arrangements of case reports are protected by copyright law, that MDC's copying of West's pagination constitutes copyright infringement, and that MDC's star pagination is not a fair use of West's copyrighted works. 616 F.Supp. at 1575-1581. The Court further held that the balance of the harms to West and to MDC involved in granting or denying a preliminary injunction weighed in favor of granting an injunction, and that the public interest also favored preliminary injunctive relief. 616 F.Supp. 1581-1583. We affirm.


Whether a preliminary injunction should issue turns upon four factors: (1) the probability that the movant will succeed on the merits; (2) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant should a preliminary injunction be denied; (3) the balance between this harm and the harm that granting the injunction will cause to the other parties litigant; and (4) the public interest. Dataphase Systems, Inc. v. C L Systems, Inc. 640 F.2d 109, 113 (8th Cir.1981) (en banc). None of these factors by itself is determinative; rather, in each case the four factors must be balanced to determine whether they tilt toward or away from granting a preliminary injunction. Id. On appeal, we may not disturb the District Court's balancing of the equities absent a clearly erroneous factual determination,

                an error of law, or an abuse of discretion.   O'Connor v. Peru State College, 728 F.2d 1001, 1002 (8th Cir.1984);  Edudata Corp. v. Scientific Computers, Inc., 746 F.2d 429, 430 (8th Cir.1984) (per curiam)

MDC's principal contention here is that there is no likelihood that West will succeed on the merits of its copyright claim. MDC readily concedes that portions of West's National Reporter System publications that are not at issue here, such as headnotes prepared by West, merit copyright protection. 2 Yet, MDC maintains that any aspects of West's reporters affected by the LEXIS Star Pagination Feature are not copyrightable. The dominant chord of MDC's argument is that West claims copyright in mere page numbers. MDC adds that in any event, whether West claims copyright in its case arrangement or simply in its pagination, West's claim must fail because neither case arrangement nor pagination can ever qualify as the original work of an author. Even were this possible, MDC goes on, West's case arrangement and pagination do not in fact meet this standard. Finally, MDC contends that even were West's arrangement of cases protected by copyright, the proposed use of West's page numbers in LEXIS reports would not constitute infringement.

We do not agree with MDC that West's claim here is simply one for copyright in its page numbers. Instead, we concur in the District Court's conclusion that West's arrangement is a copyrightable aspect of its compilation of cases, that the pagination of West's volumes reflects and expresses West's arrangement, and that MDC's intended use of West's page numbers infringes West's copyright in the arrangement.

A. Copyright Protection

The Copyright Act provides copyright protection for "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression." 17 U.S.C. Sec. 102(a). The standard for "originality" is minimal. It is not necessary that the work be novel or unique, but only that the work have its origin with the author--that it be independently created. Hutchinson Telephone Co. v. Fronteer Directory Co., 770 F.2d 128, 131 (8th Cir.1985). Little more is involved in this requirement than "a prohibition of actual copying." Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, 191 F.2d 99, 102-103 (2d Cir.1951); see also M. Nimmer, 1 Nimmer on Copyright Sec. 2.01 (1985).

To be the original work of an author, a work must be the product of some "creative intellectual or aesthetic labor." Goldstein v. California, 412 U.S. 546, 561, 93 S.Ct. 2303, 2312, 37 L.Ed.2d 163 (1973). However, "a very slight degree of such labor[,] ... almost any ingenuity in selection, combination or expression, no matter how crude, humble or obvious, will be sufficient" to make the work copyrightable. M. Nimmer, 1 Nimmer on Copyright, supra, Sec. 1.08[C]; id., Sec. 1.06. See Rockford Map Publishers v. Directory Service Company 768 F.2d 145, 148-149 (7th Cir.1985) (map based on Agriculture Department photographs and legal descriptions is copyrightable, no matter how quickly or with what little effort it is produced), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 806, 88 L.Ed.2d 781 (1986); Universal Athletic Sales Co. v. Salkeld, 511 F.2d 904, 908 (3d Cir.) ("even a modicum of creativity may suffice for a work to be protected"), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 863, 96 S.Ct. 122, 46 L.Ed.2d 92 (1975).

MDC argues that case arrangement is per se uncopyrightable because it cannot meet these standards. However, it is apparent on the face of the Copyright Act that it is possible for an arrangement of pre-existing materials to be an independently produced work of intellectual creation. Section 103 of the Act, 17 U.S.C. a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.

                Sec. 103, establishes that "the subject matter of copyright ... includes compilations and derivative works."    A "compilation" is defined in the Act as

17 U.S.C. Sec. 101. An arrangement of opinions in a case reporter, no less than a compilation and arrangement of Shakespeare's sonnets, can qualify for copyright protection.

We find support for this view in Callaghan v. Myers, 128 U.S. 617, 9 S.Ct. 177, 32 L.Ed. 547 (1888), which indicates that an original arrangement of opinions is copyrightable whenever it is the product of labor, talent, or judgment. The plaintiff in that case, Myers, held copyrights for several volumes of reports of the Supreme Court of Illinois. He had purchased these rights from the official reporter of that Court, who had prepared the volumes. In addition to the Court's opinions, the volumes contained a substantial amount of material original...

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