Posts Tagged ‘not protected’

What is Not Protected by Copyright

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

Copyright protection is granted to authors of original works that are fixed in a tangible medium and the protection is automatically granted to an author upon creation of the work. This protection affords the author six exclusive rights to protect his work. Work that can by copyrighted includes literary works; musical works, including any accompanying words; dramatic works, including any accompanying music; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken or other sounds and architectural works.

For work to be copyrightable, not only does it need to original, but it must meet a certain minimum level of creativity. While as seen above most works meet these criteria, some works may not meet the necessary level of creativity or are not within the scope of copyright as defined by the law. This post will cover five areas of work that are not copyrightable.  These areas include ideas, methods and systems; names, titles and short phrases; typeface, fonts and lettering; blank forms and familiar symbols and designs.

When it comes to ideas, methods and systems the U.S. Copyright Office states, “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied.” However, a literary, graphic or artistic description, explanation or illustration of an idea, procedure, process, system or method of operation may be copyrightable so long as it is original and meets the required level of creativity. It is important to understand that only the original expression in the work is copyrightable, not the underlying ideas, methods or systems being detailed.

An example of an uncopyrightable procedure is a recipe. In its most basic form, a recipe is simply a list of ingredients and a set of directions and neither the list nor the directions may be copyrighted. However, a recipe that is creatively written or uses artistic concepts to depict the procedure may be copyrightable. An example is cooking directions written in poetic verse.   The creativity of the poetry would be protectable but there would be no protection for the steps of preparation.   In this case, the portion that is protected is the creative explanation, along with any illustrations or pictures owned by the author. The list of ingredients, bare-bones directions and final products are still not subject to copyright protection.

Names, titles and short phrases are not copyrightable because they do not meet the minimum requirement of original authorship. In this instance, this is where the last series of posts come into play. Individual words and short word combinations may not be copyrighted, even if the word or phrase is novel, distinctive or creates a double meaning. However, these terms may be trademarked if they meet the trademark criteria set forth by the USPTO. According to the Copyright Office, some examples of names, titles or short phrases that are not copyrightable include the name of an individual (including pseudonyms, pen names or stage names), the title or subtitle of a work, such as a book, song or a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work, the name of a business or organization, the name of a band or performing group, the name of a product or service, a domain name or URL, the name of a character, catchwords or phrases and mottos, slogans or other short expressions. If the title of a book is actually the name of a series of books and the name indicates the source of those books, the title can be protected by trademark law even though the title is not subject to copyright.

Copyright law does not protect typeface, fonts and lettering. Typeface refers to a set of letters, numbers or other characters with repetitive design elements that are intended to be used in creating text or other compilations of characters including calligraphy. Since typeface, fonts and lettering are commonly used to create original works of authorship, the Office cannot provide protection to an author trying to establish ownership of any type of lettering, whether it is common or unique. If in a slim set of circumstances, the work may be copyrightable, if the author is able to describe the original aspects of the work and explain how the original work is distinguishable from the typeface characters. Similar to the recipe example above, the decoration or ornamentation may be protectable, but not the underlying material.  Think of an illuminated manuscript.

Similar to typeface, fonts or lettering, layout and design are not copyrightable, because the general layout or format of a book, page, book cover, slide presentation, web page, poster or form is the template for expression, much like how typeface is the basis of expression.

Blank forms, such as timecards, graph paper, account books, diaries, bank checks, scorecards, address books, report forms, order forms, datebooks and planners may not be copyrighted. The aforementioned blank forms are not copyrightable because they are designed to record information and do not convey any information in and of themselves. By contrast, any blank form that incorporates design or creativity that is not standard or functional and meets the minimum level of creativity and original authorship may be copyrighted. However, a blank form itself will never be afforded protection, only the unique portions may be protected.

Lastly, familiar symbols and designs, or a combination thereof are uncopyrightable and may not be registered with the Office. However, if an author incorporates familiar symbols or designs into a larger original work, the work as a whole may be registered if there is a sufficient amount of creative expression. Examples of familiar symbols and designs include, but are not limited to keyboard characters, abbreviations, musical notations, numerals, currency and mathematical symbols, arrows and other coordinate or navigational symbols, common symbols and shapes including playing card characters and the yin yang, common patterns, well-known and commonly used symbols that contain a minimal amount of expression or are in the public domain, including peace symbols, gender symbols or basic emoticons, industry designs such as hazard symbols and familiar religious symbols.

Though the five areas described are not copyrightable, there are certain exceptions in cases that meet the minimum original authorship and creativity requirements. In these cases, when attempting to submit a registration claim, it is imperative to focus on what in the work is copyrightable such as the text, illustrations or drawings. Any work that is simply a template or basis for works of original authorship may never be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

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