Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. This means that copyright prevents others from copying or making derivative versions of your work without permission. But all creative works are protected by copyright, which means that many copyright-protected works cannot be copyrighted. The list of things that cannot be copyrighted is long. In fact, it is so long that the topic deserves its own post. So we are posting the first part of a six-part series on copyright. Our goal is to simplify what often seems like a complicated topic so that you can protect your work effectively.
When you have a patent or copyright, you are the sole owner of your work. You can do whatever you like with your work. If someone copies your work and tries to sell it for a profit, this is called copyright infringement. Copyright owners can take legal action against those who infringe on their rights, including seeking damages for property loss, the cost of litigation, and profits made by others through sales of your copyrighted material. The box below shows some of the things that you cannot copyright. Today, we will discuss five common non-copyrightable elements.
What Does Copyright Cover?
You do not need a copyright to protect your work. Although the copyright statute says that copyright protects “original works of authorship,” this phrase means that you must create your own work, not just copy someone else’s. You cannot copyright mechanical designs or routes to market. You cannot copyright business methods such as those used by companies for accounting, manufacturing, and marketing. Statutory damages can be assigned by a court of law when someone infringes on these types of works.
1. Ideas, Methods, or Systems:
The Copyright Act protects your ideas, systems, processes, or methods for doing things. To be copyrightable, the idea must be original, and you must have given some form of expression to it. Your work does not have to be completely developed at this point, but you do need to give it some form of expression. You cannot copyright words or facts; the key is whether you express them in your own way.
2. Commonly Known Information:
Copyright protects information that is “identified, labeled or otherwise distinguished in a special and distinctive way.” This information is commonly known and does not need to be unique to you. Information can also be common if it has been published before and is in the public domain. You cannot copyright the common elements that go into making up a work, but you can copyright the arrangement and combinations of them.
3. Choreographic Works:
Choreographic works are copyrighted only when the choreographer has completed the work and has not yet made it available to the public. You cannot copyright a process or system where you are creating or performing a work. Your work is considered completed when you have finished putting your ideas into practice or if you have performed for an audience of an appropriate size.
4. Names, Titles, Short Phrases, or Expressions:
You cannot copyright words, phrases, or titles that have been around for a long time and do not have any special meaning. You also cannot copyright every day or descriptive terms. For example, “playground,” “baseball,” and “hockey” are all common words or short phrases, so you cannot copyright them. However, if you can show that your particular use of those words is unique to you and your work and is original in some way, you may be able to claim a copyright in it.
You cannot copyright fashions, suggesting you have copied someone else’s look. However, you do not always have to wear the same clothes. You could wear blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt as long as your outfit is unique and you are not attempting to disguise yourself or make it appear that you are wearing someone else’s clothing. The best way to find out if something is copyrightable is to search your state’s records for instances of the work. If you are not sure whether the work falls under a copyright category or not, consult a lawyer.
6. Bits of Copyable Material:
Your work cannot be protected by copyright protection so long as you do not take any unprotectable elements and combine them with other protectable material in your work. For example, if you take significant portions of text from another author’s work and use them to create a new work, this would amount to copyright infringement. You do not have to remove all of the original work, but you must put some original material in your new work.
A lot of what you include in your work may be copied by others. You cannot always control the use of other people’s work or information, but you can protect your own. Copyright protects the original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works of their authors. But all creative works are protected by copyright; this means that many works cannot be copyrighted. The list of things that cannot be copyrighted is long. In fact, it is so long that the topic deserves its own post series.