20 February 2010

Templates designed to capture a physician-patient encounter are not copyrightable

The case of Utopia Provider Systems vs Pro-Med Clinical Systems was recently referred to the United States Court of Appeal for the eleventh Circuit. The claimant Utopia had developed paper templates to capture a physician-patient encounter, and had obtained a Certificate of Registration as “compilation of terms” with the US Copyright Office. The claimant had also concluded a license agreement with the defendant Pro-Med with respect to the templates. Somewhen the defendant began to copy the templates and to create derivative electronic files thereof and has eventually ceased to pay the contractually agreed royalties. No wonder, the claimant sued for copyright infringement and the defendant, not surprisingly, argued that the templates were not copyrightable because they were blank forms that did not convey information.

The District Court for the Southern District of Florida, being the court of first instance, dismissed claimant’s action and found in favour of the defendant.

The Court of Appeal for the eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling and delivered a reasoning based on its previous judicature.

The Court started with stating the statutory requirements for copyrightability in 17 U.S.C. ยง 102(a) and cited the Supreme Court’s ground-breaking decision in Feist vs Rural, according to which a work under copyright law need possess at least some minimal degree of creativity in order to be original and hence copyrightable. The Court’s relevant precedent as to whether the templates in suit were copyrightable was its previous decision in Clarke Checks. Accordingly, blank forms which “do not convey information” or contain original pictorial expression were not copyrightable. The relevant test for copyrightability of the templates, therefore, was whether their forms “conveyed information”. The Court went then further citing the Second Circuit which in Kregos vs Associated Press offered examples of works that “conveyed information” opposing them to such that did not. Accordingly, and as the originality claimed in the templates in suit was in the “selection and arrangement of their terminology”, the Court did not find that such selection and arrangement conveyed information, wherefore they were not sufficiently original and hence failed to attract copyright protection.

Coming to my analysis, it is positive that a higher court in the US has fortified its authority in barring trivial templates and forms from copyrightability. Copyright law is, in the sense of the ruling in Feist, supposed to grant a limited monopoly over works of creativity. There is nothing creative in non-informative templates and their unauthorized use should not be referred to copyright law, but rather to provisions relating to unfair competition.


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Comments (2)

  1. 15 March 2010
    Gregory Despain said...

    Hey, I like your site. It has a lot of great information.

  2. 20 March 2010

    Very great information.

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