Things That Can’t Be Copyrighted

Copyright protects original works of authorship. Copyright does not protect ideas and facts. Therefore, everything can be copyrighted except the idea and facts themselves. This means a review of any song, book, movie, painting, or other things that you can’t copyright without infringing on the copyright holder’s rights. In order to get protection for your own work, you need to own the copyright in your work. You can’t set up a corporation in your name and then have someone steal your work under that company. Nor can you claim something is copyrighted for yourself and then give it away for free with no reward. You can’t sue someone for stealing your idea and then being the first one to start selling it. Copyright protects the expression of an idea or fact.

What is Copyright?

Copyright law is designed to protect the expression of ideas and facts. The law protects the author from being copied by another person or party. There are two types of copyright, “monetary” and “moral.” Moral rights also protect a person’s reputation and cannot be taken away without their consent. Unlike moral rights, monetary rights can be taken away by the author or copyright owner. In order for a person to claim copyright in an idea or fact, they must make it known to the world that they have exclusive rights to their work. Once this is done, then the idea or fact becomes copyrighted.

Things That Can’t Be Copyrighted:

  • Titles and Names:

Titles and names cannot be copyrighted, but they can be trademarked. In order to trademark a name, the name must be used in conjunction with selling a product or service. A person or business is the owner of their own name, but if it becomes synonymous with a product or service, then another person or business may not use that same name without being sued for trademark infringement.

  • Ideas and Facts:

Although copyright law protects the expression of an idea or fact, ideas and facts are not protected. Instead, they are free to use by other people and businesses. This is because copyright only protects the author from being copied by another person or party. It does not protect the actual idea or fact from being used by other people and businesses. A person cannot copyright a recipe, for example, but they can trademark the name of that recipe or the restaurant where it is served.

  • Works By the U.S. Federal Government:

All works of the U.S. Federal Government are not copyrighted in the United States, regardless of whether they are published or unpublished. This means that a person or business cannot take a U.S. Federal Government work and publish it as their own without getting permission from the U.S. Federal Government to do so first. However, there is an exception to this rule for works that have been made public domain by the author or copyright owner, which falls under Public Domain Copyright.

  • Unpublished Works:

Works that are unpublished are not protected by copyright law. This means that anyone can make and sell their own work, as long as they alter the work in any way to make it different from the original described in it. They cannot, however, take a published or previously copyrighted work and modify it to suit their needs without prior permission from the copyright holder or author.

  • Works Without Authorship/Facts:

There are some works that have no author or have been created without any facts. For example, certain works in the public domain may be facts, but they don’t have a known author. Facts can be copyrighted if they were originally gathered by someone. However, their use of those facts cannot be copyrighted. If the work is a compilation of facts and has an original arrangement of those facts, then this could be protected under copyright law.

  • Fashion:

Fashion is not protected by copyright law. However, it can be protected under trademark law. As with style guides, a fashion designer must be able to prove that they created the original design of an item or clothing. They cannot make a derivative work of another’s design and claim it as their own. Without proof of ownership or originality, a fashion designer may have difficulty getting their designs patented as a trademark.

Bottom Line:

If something can be copyrighted, then that work is protected by copyright law. If you want to protect something before it is published, you need to register your copyright in the U.S. Copyright Office. Once your work is in the public domain or was never copyrighted, it cannot be protected, and you may not sue people for using a fact or idea in their own works. Copyright law is designed to protect the expression of ideas and facts. The law protects the author from being copied by another person or party.

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