May 25, 2022

Under the Copyright and Related Rights Act, a work may be any manifestation of human activity, as long as it has been established and is the result of an individual creative activity. The Act also lists examples of types of works, indicating, inter alia:

  • literature
  • music
  • photography
  • graphics
  • scenical.

In some situations, however, a doubt arises whether a specific product, created as a result of human work, will meet the criteria for granting it legal and copyright protection. Today we will consider whether and under what conditions a table made in Excel will be protected by copyright.


Whether a table will be protected by copyright depends, among other things, on its content. Theoretically, there may be a situation where the content of the excel table will be a literary or graphic work. The creator of the work could, by coloring individual fields, create graphics that would be creative and individual enough to be granted copyright protection. There is no requirement that graphic works should be created only in computer programs intended for graphic processing. In such a situation, however, it is not the table itself that will be the work, but the graphics created with it.

But what if we are talking about a classic table in Excel, containing data selected by the author of the table, arranged in appropriately named columns and rows? Such a table containing non-copyrighted data, such as information on product prices, supplier names, product names and description of their specifications, may also be subject to copyright, although this is more difficult to demonstrate than for typical copyright subjects. Such a table will be defined as a copyright database.


A database will be protected by copyright when its selection, arrangement or compilation is creative. It is recognized that the creative nature of a database may be granted where the creator of the database had the goal of creating something objectively new, previously unknown, rather than simply done routine work, the result of which was known from the outset.

Therefore, if an entrepreneur running an online store creates a list of the products he offers and organizes them in order from the most popular to the least popular, indicating their prices and the total number of products sold, the list of such products will not be of such a creative nature. It will be a simple, mechanical and logical translation of reality into a group of individual data, arranged according to a predetermined system.

In borderline situations, when doubts arise as to whether a given table has an individual character or lacks it, one can use the statistical one-off test and the creative freedom test.

As a result of the statistical one-off test, it is necessary to answer the question whether the same or a very similar table has already been created in the past and whether it is possible that it will be created independently by another person in the future. If the answer to the questions is yes, then the table cannot benefit from copyright protection.

Much more often used, however, and currently recognized in practice, is the test of creative freedom. The purpose of this test is to answer the following questions:

  1. Do the data included in the table fill all or a significant part of the data set from which they come?
  2. Whether the data has been compiled using a commonly used data sorting key (smallest to largest, alphabetical, chronological).
  3. Was the selection of data determined by the purpose of the collection, its operational nature?

An affirmative answer to the above questions basically excludes the possibility of granting copyright protection for the table.


Sometimes the authors of rich data sets argue that they should benefit from protection as creators, because they incurred a significant financial and organizational cost in creating a specific data set. However, as it rightly follows from the well-established jurisprudence and views of the doctrine, neither the incurring large financial outlays nor the amount of work are significant for copyright.

The gateway for those seeking protection of such a product of their work is the Act on the protection of databases (Act of 27 July 2001 on the protection of databases (i.e. Journal of Laws of 2021, item 386).


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