A copyright is a form of intellectual property that gives the owner the exclusive right to distribute creative work. Creators use copyrights to protect their creative work and to prevent others from copying and distributing it as theirs. While most people have heard the term, some may be confused by what types of things can actually be copyrighted. For those looking to protect their creative work it’s important to know the answer to the question: can ideas be copyrighted?


Can Ideas Be Copyrighted?

Copyrights are designed to protect creative works that are expressed in some form. This means that if you want to copyright an idea you have that has not been expressed in any form, you are out of luck. Copyright.gov explains, “copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.”

Although an idea itself can not be copyrighted, that does not mean they are not valuable. An idea is the first step in creative work, and the only thing keeping you from protecting your idea is expressing it in some form.


What Are Examples of an Expressed Idea?

Even though you can not copyright an idea, you may not be so far from having something that is copyrightable. While things like plays and movies are not so easy to create in a short time, there are some everyday works that you can copyright. These include marketing materials, website copy, product packaging, slide presentations and more. These all started out as ideas and ended up being expressed in different forms. The creators of these works may look to copyright them because they are valuable and the owner does not want them to be copied or redistributed by others.

One famous copyright infringement case of recent was Starbucks vs. Fredoccino. Fredocinno was a new drink that Starbucks claimed was too similar to their own ‘frappuccino.’ This serves as a good example of why you should copyright your ideas that turn into expressed creative work, and why you should make sure an idea you plan on turning into a creative work is not easily claimed as infringement by others.


How Do You Get a Copyright?

If you have an idea that you have expressed and turned into an actual creative work, you may want to copyright it. To do so, you must complete and submit an application to the U.S. Copyright Office at copyright.gov. Copyrights usually take 3 months to be registered. There are many instances in the past that show why it is worth it to register your copyright and how easy it can be. NACCE x Michelson IP EIR Professor Gary Graves gives his own perspective on obtaining copyrights using experience as a published author here.


Further Reading Related to “Can Ideas Be Copyrighted?”