When Will We Give Up the Charade That Numbers Are Copyrightable?–National Football Scouting v. Rang

3 02 2013

By Eric Goldman

National Football Scouting, Inc. v. Rang, 11-cv-5762-RBL (W.D. Wash. Dec. 13, 2012)

Individual numbers aren’t copyrightable, no matter how much work or judgment went into producing them. This proposition seems so obvious, I feel silly even mentioning it. A number is like a word in a sentence: it could be strung together with other elements into a copyrightable work, but standing alone, it’s too small to constitute “an original work of authorship.” And, of course, we’re always free to reuse any number we want in our own expression.

Yet, despite this common-sense baseline, we have a burgeoning body of caselaw indicating the opposite, including this ruling–one of the cleanest cases to date articulating the proposition that a single number (e.g., “42”) can, by itself, be copyrightable. The court nevertheless finds for the defendant on fair use–leaving this yucky ruling on the copyrightability of individual numbers hanging out there, just waiting for plaintiff misuse.


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