Should You Copyright an App Idea?

Full Question: I have this idea for a phone app, and have written out a description of the product, and have drawn some potential interface layouts. Should I register my idea with the U.S. Copyright Office?

Answer: If you are trying to protect the idea behind your app, please note that copyright does not protect ideas, methods, systems, or discoveries. Nor does it protect words or short phrases. See 17 U.S.C. ¤ 102(b); 37 C.F.R. ¤ 202.1. If the written description of your idea contains enough original text, it may be registrable as a literary work. Likewise, if your drawings of potential interface layouts contain the requisite level of copyrightable authorship, you may be able to register those drawings as a work of the visual arts. However, a registration for this text or these drawings would cover only the original expressions that you submit to the Copyright Office. The registration would not cover any of the ideas or concepts that may be described in that text or embodied in that artwork.

Once you develop your phone app, you may be able to register additional content, such as an original computer program that runs the app, or original audiovisual material that appear in the screen displays.

Answered by:

Rob Kasunic, Director of Registration Policy and Practices at the U.S. Copyright Office