In our previous article, Top 5 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Copyrights, we shared that “Copyright protection extends beyond creative works into business documents, presentations, marketing materials, and even computer code. This means many items created in the daily course of business can potentially be copyright-protected.” When people think of copyrights they often think about books, songs, and movies – but you don’t have to be an author, musician, or filmmaker to be concerned with copyrights. There are many items, particularly those created in the course of business, that can also be protected. So what can be copyrighted?
Practical, Everyday Items That Can Be Copyrighted
Here’s a short list of everyday works, particularly those created in the course of business, that can be covered by copyright:
- Advertising and marketing materials
- Blog articles, website copy, and other forms of content marketing
- Educational worksheets, workbooks, and tests
- How-to guides, user manuals, and instructions
- Podcasts and radio broadcasts
- Product packaging
- Blueprints, drawings, photos, and other visuals
- Slide presentations
- Databases, spreadsheets, and computer programs
All of these forms of IP can be valuable for creators and entrepreneurs. The data contained in a simple spreadsheet, for instance, may have customer lists or other information you’d want to protect.
Items That Can’t Be Copyright Protected
There are also some works that can’t be protected by U.S. copyright law. For example, works that simply repeat facts, like the phone numbers and addresses contained in a directory or phone book are not copyrightable. In the eyes of the law, even a creative new cocktail recipe would be uncopyrightable. While facts and information can’t be copyrighted, creative ways of sharing facts may be – for example, through educational programming like Bill Nye the Science Guy. It’s a subtle, yet important distinction that can easily be misunderstood.
Surprisingly, clothing or fashion articles aren’t covered by copyright law! Even though we associate fashion design with creativity, legally, fashion is not considered a creative work. Rather, clothing is seen as a “useful article,” and not protectable IP. Uniforms are a different story, though. The Supreme Court has determined that design features on a uniform that have “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural qualities” are separate from the useful article itself – making the feature copyrightable.
The good news is that even things that can’t be copyrighted are often protected by other laws. For example, titles, names, slogans, and catchphrases may qualify for trademark protection.
Something that’s important to note is that ideas are not protected IP if they are not “fixed in a tangible medium.” What this means is that sharing an idea with a friend, but failing to write it down or record it, could lead to a loss of your IP. If your “friend” takes your idea and runs with it, there isn’t much you can do to prove the idea was yours first.
For more information on copyright, please refer to Chapter 3 of our free interactive ebook, The Intangible Advantage.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article shall be construed as legal advice, or as creating an attorney/client relationship.
The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, addresses critical gaps in intellectual property education to empower the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.