How to Prepare a Descriptive Statement for an MLS Database Copyright Application

For Group Registration of Updates or Revisions to an MLS Database

An application to the Copyright Office for group registration of a database must include a descriptive statement supporting the copyright claim. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.20(c)(2)(vii)(D)(5)-(7); U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices § 1117.6(C) (3d ed. 2017). Such a statement should include several categories of information specified by Copyright Office, including “the nature and frequency of the changes in the database and the location within the database or the separate data files where the changes appear.” Id. Applicants should clearly state the authorship claimed in the noted changes.

Updates and Revisions Must be Original and Creative

Clearly stating the claimed authorship in the changes is important for efficient examination and registration of copyright claims with respect to updates or revisions to a database. A group of updates or revisions to a database is registrable only if the updates or revisions meet the statutory standard for an original work of authorship. To be registered under the Copyright Office’s current procedures for group registration of updates or revisions to databases, the author’s original selection, coordination and/or arrangement of material in the updates or revisions must be evident from the application and accompanying materials. The descriptive statement is the principal vehicle for a copyright claimant to communicate to the Office why the claimant believes that a group of updates or revisions to a database has original selection, coordination and/or arrangement so as to be registrable over previous versions of the database.

MLSs Must Own the Creative Choices in the Updates or Revisions

There are various ways that MLS database providers may be the copyright owners of original selection, coordination and/or arrangement of material in updates or revisions to their databases. All MLSs make changes in the design and scope of their databases, sometimes frequently. If the MLS is the copyright owner of those changes (e.g., because they are made by the MLS’s employees), a sufficiently material set of creative changes should support registration of updates or revisions to the database. In addition, some MLSs may be copyright owners of selection, coordination and/or arrangement embodied in the individual records of their databases (e.g., if contributors of such selection, coordination and/or arrangement agree that their contributions will be a work made for hire).

Sample Template

Available below is a template descriptive statement with sample language that MLSs may use in descriptive statements to the extent applicable. This template is intended as an educational tool illustrating language for describing creativity in an application for a group of updates or revisions to a database. Of course, this template and the sample language must be completed and modified as appropriate to accurately reflect the subject application and database. MLSs should also add to their descriptive statements additional forms of original selection, coordination and/or arrangement that may be relevant to them.

Copyright Office Examination

The Copyright Office will review each application in its totality and on its own merits. The Copyright Office will grant a registration when the overall set of changes reflected in the application demonstrates sufficiently creative changes in the selection, coordination, and arrangement of the database to amount to an original work of authorship. Minor changes to the database, however, may not suffice. The more creative choices that an MLS can identify in its application, the stronger its chances for obtaining a registration.

Download Sample Descriptive Statement (PDF 693 KB)