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Five Things That Cannot be Copyrighted

On Behalf of | Feb 3, 2021 | Copyright Law

Copyrights are a type of intellectual property that protects someone’s original work of authorship. Copyright law protects books, plays, musicals, computer software, architecture, and other artistic works. You can even copyright the original authorship on a website, such as photographs, writings, and artwork. Whether you are a business owner, a writer, or an artist, it is important to understand which types of work are protected by copyright laws. AtAU LLC, one of the most common questions our clients ask us regarding copyright is which works can and cannot be copyrighted. Below, we have listed five common types of work that cannot be copyrighted.

1) Public or Commonly Known Information

Facts and other types of commonly known information cannot be protected through copyright lock. For example, if you purchase a calendar, the calendar itself is not protected by copyright protection. However, the photos inside the calendar are protected. Telephone directories are also not protected by copyright law.

Copyright law is intended to protect creativity. When designs are so familiar in common that most people recognize them and use them daily or monthly, they are not unique. Even if the publisher used significant effort to make a product, such as a phone book, the phone book is not copyrightable. Likewise, the expression of well-known facts cannot be copyrighted. For example, the knowledge that there are seven continents in the world is a fact that cannot be copyrighted.

2) Systems or Ideas

Ideas cannot be copyrighted, but when ideas are written down on paper or acted out and filmed, the artist can copyright the final work. For example, a business can copyright their print advertisement or commercial in video form. However, they cannot copyright the ideas behind the print promotion or commercial video. Similarly, a business can copyright its brand but cannot copyright a promotion itself.

What is the difference between an idea and work that can be copyrighted? An idea is something that is not fixed into a tangible medium. The work must be written down, filmed in a video, picture, saved on a computer hard drive, or otherwise fixed in time. For example, if a politician gives a speech and does not write the speech down or video record it, the politician has no copyright protection. However, if the politician hired a cameraperson to film the speech, the politician could copyright the contents of the video.

Additionally, not all ideas that are fixed in a tangible medium expression can be copyrighted. As you will see below, names, titles, and slogans cannot be copyrighted. Sometimes the difference between an idea and art fixed in a medium becomes murky. For example, if another author wants to write a book about Wizards in the United Kingdom, the author can do so without violating the copyright of the Harry Potter books. The idea of a story about wizards is not protected by copyright. On the contrary, If the author uses the characters from Harry Potter, or some of the more specific plot devices, a copyright infringement probably occurred.

3) Titles, Names, Short Phrases, and Slogans

The US copyright office has made it clear that copyright protection does not cover names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. Content creators cannot copyright the title of their works, short phrases they use to identify their works, or their name. Copyright laws are intended to protect a content creator’s work of creative authorship. Copyright laws are not intended to protect how the author or Creator identifies that work in the marketplace.

You may have noticed that you can find multiple songs with the same name, for example. The same goes for movies. Authors can copyright the content of their books, but they cannot copyright the titles of books, movies, or songs.

4) Fashion

Designs can be protected by patent law, but not through copyright law. Creators cannot copyright pants, shirts, dresses, uniforms, fashion ensembles, or anything similar. They can copyright a clothing pattern they create, however. Even the most illustrious and popular fashion designers do not have copyright protection for their designs. Even though the architectural design and other types of design are protected by copyright law, fashion falls outside the bounds of copyright protection.

Under copyright law, fashion pieces are categorized as useful articles. Useful articles only enjoy copyright protection to the extent that the design incorporates “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” The pattern on a dress can be protected by copyright law, but the dress design itself is not protected. Similarly, the design of an elaborate watch can be protected by copyright law, but the watch itself cannot be.

It is possible for fashion designers to patent their created works. There is currently a movement among fashion designers to lobby congress to change copyright laws and to protect fashion designs. Keep in mind that trademark law protects fashion companies’ names that create, manufacture, and distribute clothing.

5) Works Created by the Government

The government is legally prohibited from copyrighting its work. That is why photo images taken by spaceships by NASA can be freely shared and copied. Since taxpayers pay for the government agencies to create those works, it would not be right for the government to copyright their work products. Doing so would also stifle criticism and competition.

Contact a Chicago Copyright Lawyer Today

Do you have questions about whether your work is eligible for copyright protection? Is someone infringing on your copyrighted material? If so, the attorneys atAU LLC are here to help. We have decades of experience representing clients in Chicago and across the country in intellectual property matters. Whether you need assistance with a copyright, trademark, or patent issue, we can help you protect your rights. Contact our reputable law firm in Chicago dealing with copyright issues today to schedule your initial consultation.