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What can be copyrighted and what can't?

Intellectual property covers a wide range of topics, and it provides legal protections to companies, individuals, inventors and other creatives. A copyright is a specific type of intellectual property, one that governs over original works of authorship. These original works must be in a tangible form, though it does not matter if the works were ever published or not.

But what constitutes an "original work of authorship?" That phrase seems to indicate that the work needs to be written down somewhere. While having something written down is a crucial part of a copyright, it isn't necessarily a requirement. The work does, however, need to be recorded in some way. So, for example, if you are looking to copyright a piece of choreography or a dance routine, you would need to record it.

In addition to choreographed work, written works such as books, musical scores, dramatic works such as plays, pictures and sculptures, architectural renderings and even audio files can be copyrighted. Having a copyright prevents others from profiting off of your original work.

Now, there are things that can't be copyrighted. As examples:

  • An improvised speech or impromptu performance can't be copyrighted.
  • Names, familiar logos and symbols can't be copyrighted, nor can variations on typography.
  • Ideas, processes, and concepts can't be copyrighted.

There are other examples as well, but the point is that there are many wrinkles to copyright law and it is important for those seeking a copyright -- or trying to uphold a copyright -- to know the law.

Source: FindLaw, "What May be Covered by Copyrights?," Accessed Feb. 6, 2017

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