American Dental Association v. Delta Dental Plans Association
126 F.3d 977 (7th Cir. 1997)

  • The ADA published a book that contained a taxonomy of different dental procedures (aka the Code).
    • Basically, they came up with a system where they gave every dental procedure (root canals, filling cavities) a different number. That made it easy to do data entry and keep computer records.
  • Delta published a book that contained blank forms dentists could use for their records, as well as most of the Code that the ADA first created. The ADA sued Delta for copyright infringement.
    • Delta argued that taxonomy and nomenclature was not copyrightable.
  • The Trial Court found for Delta. The ADA appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the Code cannot be copyrighted because it just catalogs a field of knowledge.
      • Basically, the Court found that taxonomy may not be copyrighted.
      • See 17 U.S.C. 102(b).
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to Baker v. Selden (101 U.S. 99 (1879)) which found that a copyright did not give an author the right to prevent others from using the same method.
      • Therefore, the ADA couldn't stop dentists from using the ADA Code in their forms and records, or stop Delta from distributing forms that invited dentists to use the ADA's Code.
    • However, the Court found that it was a violation of the ADA's copyright for Delta to distribute a copy of the code itself.