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Copyright Law Explained

What’s Not Protected by Copyright Law

Although many creative works satisfy the requirement for copyright law protection, there are still a number of things that cannot be protected by copyright law. To understand what’s not protected by copyright law, read over the non-exhausted list below.

Copyright protection is not available for:

  • Procedures, processes and methods of operation;
  • Systems;
  • Ideas, facts and concepts;
  • Principles and discoveries;
  • Titles, slogans and other short phrases;
  • Lists of ingredients;
  • Creations that are not fixed in a tangible form, like an improvisational comedy sketch;
  • Information that is comprised completely of common property and no original authorship, like standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers;
  • Utilitarian elements of industrial designs (although the expressive elements of the design may be protected, such as a decorative lamp base);
  • Familiar symbols or designs, like a “Stop” sign;
  • Simple geometrical shapes; and
  • Mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring

In some cases, these things might be protectable under patent, trademark or trade secret law. For example, a slogan may be eligible for trademark protection and a process may be patentable subject matter. Also, although an idea, fact or concept itself is not protectable, the expression of an idea, facts or concept, such as in a description, explanation, or illustration may be protectable or as a database of facts. For more on this see the Idea/Expression Dichotomy.

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