What is a Collective Work?
A collective work is a compilation in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole.
The “authorship” in a collective work comes from the original selection, coordination, and arrangement of the independent works included in the collective work. Registering a collective work does not automatically establish your ownership of any underlying contributions, musical works, or sound recordings.
Under the Copyright Act, a collective work is considered one work for purposes of registration. A registration for a collective work covers the copyrightable authorship in the selection, coordination, or arrangement of the work. A registration for a collective work covers the collective work as a whole and may cover the individual works contained in it if (1) the collective work and the individual works are owned by the same party, (2) the individual works have not been previously published or previously registered, and (3) the individual works are not in the public domain.
Scope of a Registration for a Collective Work
A collective work is considered a single work for purposes of calculating statutory damages; therefore, registering a collective work together with the individual works contained in it may have important consequences in an infringement action. Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act states that a copyright owner may be entitled to recover “an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the [infringement] action, with respect to any one work,” and “[f]or the purposes of this subsection, all the parts of a compilation . . . constitute one work.” The statute also states that a collective work is, by definition, a compilation. Thus, when you register a number of individual works as part of a collective work, you may be entitled to seek one award of statutory damages for the collective work as a whole rather than a separate award for each individual work, even if the defendant infringed all of those works.