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Copyright Law FAQ (6/6): Appendix (a note about legal citation form)

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Part 6 - Appendix: A note about legal citation form, or, "What's all this 
'17 U.S.C. 107' and '977 F.2d 1510' stuff?"

Copyright 1994 Terry Carroll
(c) 1994 Terry Carroll

Last update: January 6, 1994.

This article is the last in a series of six articles that contains 
frequently asked questions (FAQ) with answers relating to copyright law, 
particularly that of the United States.  It is posted to the Usenet,,, comp.patents, 
misc.answers, comp.answers, and news.answers newsgroups monthly, on or 
near the 17th of each month.

This FAQ is available for anonymous FTP from [], 
in directory /pub/usenet/news.answers/law/Copyright-FAQ, files part1 - 
part6.  If you do not have direct access by FTP, you can obtain a copy 
via email: send a message to with the following 
lines in it:

  send usenet/news.answers/law/Copyright-FAQ/part1
  send usenet/news.answers/law/Copyright-FAQ/part2
  send usenet/news.answers/law/Copyright-FAQ/part3
  send usenet/news.answers/law/Copyright-FAQ/part4
  send usenet/news.answers/law/Copyright-FAQ/part5
  send usenet/news.answers/law/Copyright-FAQ/part6


This article is Copyright 1994 by Terry Carroll.  It may be freely 
redistributed in its entirety provided that this copyright notice is not 
removed.  It may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial 
documents without the written permission of the copyright holder.  
Permission is expressly granted for this document to be made available 
for file transfer from installations offering unrestricted anonymous file 
transfer on the Internet.  Permission is further granted for this 
document to be made available for file transfer in the data libraries of 
associated with the following Compuserve Information Services fora: the 
Legal Forum, the Desktop Publishing Forum, the Show Business Forum, and 
the Ideas, Invention & Innovation Forum.  This article is provided as is 
without any express or implied warranty.  Nothing in this article 
represents the views of Santa Clara University or of the Santa Clara 
Computer and High Technology Law Journal.

While all information in this article is believed to be correct at the 
time of writing, this article is for educational purposes only and does 
not purport to provide legal advice.  If you require legal advice, you 
should consult with a legal practitioner licensed to practice in your 

Terry Carroll, the FAQ-maintainer, is a computer professional, and is 
currently (January 1994) a student in his final semester at Santa Clara 
University School of Law, is currently Editor-in-Chief of the Santa Clara 
Computer and High Technology Law Journal, and is seeking employment as an 

If you have any additions, corrections, or suggestions for improvement to 
this FAQ, please send them to one of the following addresses, in order of 

I will accept suggestions for questions to be added to the FAQ, but 
please be aware that I will be more receptive to questions that are 
accompanied by answers.  :-)


The following table indicates the contents of each of the parts of the 

  Part 1 - Introduction (including full table of contents).
  Part 2 - Copyright basics.
  Part 3 - Common miscellaneous questions.
  Part 4 - International aspects.
  Part 5 - Further copyright resources.
  Part 6 - Appendix: A note about legal citation form, or, "What's
           all this '17 U.S.C. 107' and '977 F.2d 1510' stuff?"

APPENDIX: A note about legal citation form, or, "What's all this '17 
U.S.C. 107' and.'977 F.2d 1510' stuff?"

Citations to legal materials can be intimidating when first encountered.  
The purpose of this entry is to provide a short description of the legal 
citations used in this article to reduce that intimidation.  It's not 
intended as a be-all and end-all to legal research, but just a way of 
letting you find the sources that are cited in this FAQ if you head to a 
law library.  If you don't care about looking up any of the legal 
materials cited in this FAQ, you can skip this entry.  On the other hand, 
if you find this interesting and would like more information, I recommend 
Mark Eckenwiler's Legal Research FAQ.  This FAQ is archived at, directory /pub/usenet/news/answers/law/research, files 
part1 and part2.  If you do not have direct access by FTP, you can obtain 
a copy via email: send a message to with the 
following lines in it:

  send usenet/news.answers/law/research/part1
  send usenet/news.answers/law/research/part2

Questions regarding the Legal Research FAQ should be directed to Mark at

CASES:  Cases are reported in books called "reporters."  A reporter 
generally consists of a series of bound volumes.  Often when the volume 
number becomes too high, the reporter publisher starts over with volume 
1, designating the new set as a "second series," "third series," etc., as 

Because copyright is almost entirely a matter of federal law, most (if 
not all) cases referenced in this FAQ are federal cases.  The most common 
reporters (with their abbreviations shown in parentheses) are:

United States Reports (U.S.) - This is the official reporter for cases 
from the United States Supreme Court.  This is the standard reporter 
reference provided when referencing a Supreme Court case.  If a case is 
especially recent, it may not yet be published in the U.S. Reports, in 
which case, the proper reference is to one of the unofficial reporters 
(either the Supreme Court Reporter or the Lawyers' Edition).

The unofficial reporters are also cross-indexed by the U.S. Report's 
volume and page numbers, so that given a citation to a case in the U.S. 
Reports, you should be able to also find it in either of the unofficial 
reporters.  The converse is not true: if, for example, you have a 
citation to the Supreme Court Reporter, you will not be able to find the 
case in the U.S. Reports.  All law libraries carry a set of books called 
Shepard's Citations, which will permit you to cross-reference this way.  
See your law librarian for help using these intimidating-looking books.

Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.) - This is an unofficial reporter published 
by West Publishing.  It too reports cases from the United States Supreme 
Court.  The advantages of this reporter is that it comes out more quickly 
than the official reporter, and also includes West's headnotes and case 

United States Supreme Court Reporter, Lawyers' Edition (L.Ed.) - This is 
another unofficial reporter, similar to the Supreme Court Reporter, but 
published by the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co.  In addition to the 
advantages offered by the Supreme Court Reporter, it often includes short 
essays (called annotations) on points of law dealt with in a case.

Federal Reporter (F.) - This is an unofficial reporter, published by 
West, that reports cases from the various United States Courts of Appeal.  
There is no official reporter for these cases, and the Federal Reporter 
de facto fills that role.

Federal Supplement (F.Supp) - This is an unofficial reporter, published 
by West, that reports cases from the various United States District 
Courts (that is, from the courts of "original jurisdiction," where trials 
are originally held and often appealed to the higher courts).  There is 
no official reporter for these cases, and the Federal Supplement de facto 
fills that role.

United States Patent Quarterly (U.S.P.Q.) - This is a topical reporting 
service from the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA).  It reports cases from 
various courts, but because it's a "topical reporter," it only reports 
cases dealing with a certain topic, in this case, intellectual property 
(despite its name, it's not limited to patent cases).

This is only a very small subset of the reporters and services that 
report cases.  For a more complete list, see "The Bluebook: A Uniform 
System of Citation, 15th Edition," in particular, tables T.1 (United 
States Jurisdictions), T.2 (Foreign Jurisdictions) and T.16 (Services).

The standard way of referencing a case is in the format:

   case-name volume-number reporter [series, if applicable] page-number 
(jurisdiction, date)

"Jurisdiction" is omitted for U.S. Supreme Court cases; the fact that the 
reporter is U.S., S.Ct., or L.Ed. is enough to show that it's a U.S. 
Supreme Court case.  If two page numbers are included, the first page 
number is the page on which the case begins, and the second is the page 
that contains the particular point being referenced (called a "pinpoint 
cite" or "jump cite").

Here is an example of a case citation:

   Sega v. Accolade, 977 F.2d 1510, 1520 (9th Cir., 1993).

>From this citation, we know that the parties in the case are Sega and 
Accolade; the case is reported in volume 977 (second series) of the 
Federal Reporter; the case begins on page 1510, but the particular point 
being referenced is on page 1520; the case was decided in the 9th Circuit 
Court of Appeals, in 1993.

STATUTES:  A federal statute is generally enacted as a "public law," and 
is assigned a P.L. number.  This number indicates the Congress in which 
it was enacted, and the law number within the Congress.  For example, the 
Copyright Act of 1976 was the 553rd law enacted by the 94th Congress, and 
so is officially catalogued as P.L. 94-553.  If you know the P.L. number 
of a law, you can generally find it in the United States Code 
Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.), or in Statutes at 
Large (see below) easily.

Once enacted, Public Laws are catalogued in a official statute list 
called "Statutes At Large."  Citations to Statutes at Large ("Stat.") are 
similar to that for cases: volume, service identifier, and page number.  
For example, the Copyright Act of 1976 may be cited as 90 Stat 2541, 
meaning that it is in Statutes At Large, volume 90, page 2541.

However, most statutes, as enacted, are not very useful to read.  They're 
generally written in a style saying that a prior act is amended by adding 
certain words or phrases, and deleting others.  Without seeing the 
context of the modified portion, you really can't see what the statute 
actually does.

This problem is handled by statutory codifications.  In particular, most 
U.S. laws are organized into "titles" of the U.S. Code (U.S.C.).  Each 
title governs a particular area of law.  For example, Title 17 deals with 
copyright law.  These codifications are periodically updated by taking 
the original laws and applying the modifications made by subsequent laws 
so that the result is the text of the law as it is in effect today.  In 
practice, almost every citation to law (including the majority of those 
in this FAQ) are to the U.S.C., not to the individual public laws.

A typical citation to the U.S.C. looks like this: 17 U.S.C. 107.  This is 
a reference to U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107 (which happens to be the 
fair use provisions of copyright).

While there is an official U.S. Code published by the U.S. government, 
there are two commercially published versions of the code, too.  These 
are West Publishing's U.S. Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) and Lawyers 
Cooperative Publishing Co.'s U.S. Code Service (U.S.C.S.).  In practice, 
because of the private versions are frequently updated, and contain 
extras such as cross-references to other statutes, cases, law review 
articles and other resources, they are used far more frequently than the 
official U.S.C.

REGULATIONS:  In addition to statutes passed by Congress, law also comes 
in the form of regulations promulgated by the various federal agencies.  
In the case of copyright, the regulations we're most interested in are 
those promulgated by the Copyright Office.

Regulations become effective by publication of the regulation in the 
Federal Register (Fed. Reg.).  Like statutes, they are then periodically 
codified, in this case in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.).  
Usually, regulations are cited to the C.F.R. for the same reason that 
statutes are usually cited to the U.S.C.  However, the promulgation 
documents as published in the Federal Register include not only the 
regulation itself, but usually information justifying or explaining the 
regulation, so occasionally the Fed. Reg. citation is used.

Here are some examples of citations to a regulation, in this case, to a 
regulation preventing registration of a copyright in a blank form:

45 Fed. Reg. 63297, 63299 (Sep. 24, 1980).   (Federal Register volume 45, 
beginning on page 63297, with a pinpoint cite to page 63299.)

37 C.F.R. 202.1(c) (1992).   (the same regulation, as codified in the 

TREATIES:  Treaties are compiled in several treaty sources.  If the U.S. 
is a party, the treaty will generally be found in United States Treaties 
and Other International Agreements (U.S.T.) or Treaties and Other 
International Acts Series (T.I.A.S.).  In some cases (especially with 
older treaties signed before the State Department took on their 
publication), they'll be in Statutes at Large; in some case (especially 
with important newer treaties not yet published by the State Department), 
they'll be in the private versions of the U.S. Code.

If the U.S. is not a party, the treaty won't be in the above sources.  It 
might be found the United Nations Treaty Series (U.N.T.S.) (or the League 
of Nations Treaty Series (L.N.T.S.) for older treaties), the Pan-American 
Treaty Series (Pan-Am. T.S.) or European Treaty Series (Europ. T.S.).

In addition, treaties may be found in many unofficial compilations, e.g., 
International Legal Materials (I.L.M.), Basic Documents of International 
Economic Law (B.D.I.E.L.), Bevans, and Kavass (KAV).

This is only a small list of treaty sources.  For more sources, see "The 
Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 15th Edition," in particular, 
table T.4 (Treaty Sources).

Generally, treaties are cited in the standard way: volume number, 
reporter, and page number (e.g., the Berne Convention is 1 B.D.I.E.L. 
715).  A few series (e.g., T.I.A.S. and Europ. T.S.) are cited by treaty 
number within the series, with no volume number specified.

The document "Treaties In Force" lists all the treaties to which the U.S. 
is a party, and it lists all the other nations that are also a party.  
This is a good source to find out if a particular nation is a signatory 
to a particular treaty.

One final note on treaties:  In section 4.1, many citations to treaties 
look like typographical errors: "Art. 6bis" and "Art. 11ter," for 
example.  Well, these aren't typos.  "bis," "ter, and "quater" are 
suffixes derived from the French words for "second," "third," and 
"fourth," respectively  These suffixes are used when a treaty has already 
been written, and a revision will insert a new article between already 
existing articles.  This avoids the need to renumber the treaty articles, 
and so provides a consistency between multiple revisions of the treaties.  
For example, Article 6bis of the Berne Convention is an article that was 
inserted between Article 6 and Article 7 when the convention text was 
revised.  (This is also the reason why some modems are advertised as 
supporting the V.32 protocol, while others support V.32bis, in case 
you've ever wondered.)

User Contributions:

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