Hey, That’s My Idea!

Note: this blog was originally posted by the U.S. Copyright Office.

It’s safe to assume that at some point most, if not all, of us have read or seen something so similar to an idea we’ve thought up that we exclaim, “Hey! That’s my idea!”

While it’s impossible to protect an idea alone, you can protect the creative expression of an idea under copyright. But what does that mean exactly? Basically, if an idea is fixed in a tangible form and demonstrates a spark of creativity, it could be protected by copyright. The most common examples of works that can be protected by copyright include literature, music, and visual art. However, copyright protection extends much further, to things you may not have thought of before. How many creative works from the list below would you have guessed could be protected by copyright?

  • Video Games. Video games can be registered as computer programs more on that here.
  • Foreign Works and Translations. These types of works are protected through reciprocal treaties, like the Berne Convention.
  • Computer Software. It is written in a language, although not one read by many humans. The U.S. Copyright Office published a report on the topic in 2016.
  • Selfies. Selfies can be registered as photographs. In fact, up to 750 photographs can be registered on one application, but you must select the designation for group registration.
  • Diaries. Diaries can be registered as works of literature. Here’s hoping you never find mine, but if I want to, I can register it as a literary work.
  • Costumes. Clothing designs may be eligible for copyright protection if they demonstrate a degree of creativity. Theatrical costumes may fall into this category. They would be registered as works of visual art.
  • Houses. Houses may also be registered as works of visual art. Our dream house would be right next to the Copyright Office.
  • Toys. Many, many toys are registered for copyright protection with the Copyright Office. The three-dimensional ones, for example, can be registered as works of visual art.
  • Websites. Bet you never thought of that one! But, websites are creative works and may be eligible for copyright protection as well. They can be registered as other digital content.
  • Speeches. In fact, some of our country’s most famous speeches have been registered with the Copyright Office as literary works.

As you can see, copyright protection for creative works is broad! So the next time you find yourself saying, “Hey, that’s my idea!” it’s worth thinking about whether it might be protected under copyright. Want more examples of what to do next time you have a great idea? Check out our YouTube channel and subscribe for future content!

Blog posted with permission from the U.S. Copyright Office. Original post can be found here. Blog is written by Holland Gormley. Watch the U.S.C.O’s YouTube video related to this blog here.

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