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Copyright Law Explained

Can You Copyright an Idea or Concept

Ideas, facts and concepts are not protectable by copyright. However, the expression of those ideas, facts, and concepts are protectable. For example, anyone may “use” the ideas, facts and procedures in a news article to write their own article that uses their own expression, but, with some exceptions, no one is allowed take the expression used by the author of the article to describe or explain those ideas, facts and procedures. This is what is known as the idea/expression dichotomy. This distinction between what is and what is not protected by copyright encourages people to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by someone else while at the same time encouraging the creation and dissemination of the copyrighted work in the first place.

Although it is rare, there are times when the idea and the expression of the idea are so intertwined with one another that there is only one way or very few ways to express the idea. When the idea and expression of the idea merge like this the expression of the idea is not copyrightable. This is what is commonly referred to as the merger doctrine.

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Last updated: 05/2022