Adopting & Creating OER

9 What is Copyrightable and What is Not?

Copyright grants rights to literary and artistic works that are original. Copyright is available to everything from paintings to blog posts, but all works must meet a certain standard of originality to warrant copyright. Different countries frame the test in different ways, but it is often considered a test of originality.

Ideas, facts, and concepts are not protected by copyright law but, the expression of those ideas, facts, and concepts are protectable, such as in a description, explanation, or illustration or as a database of facts. According to the Copyright Alliance, separating an idea from the manifestation of that idea is known in copyright law as the idea-expression dichotomy.

Copyright does not protect:

  • Procedures, processes and methods of operation
  • Principles, systems and discoveries
  • Titles, slogans, and other short phrases
  • Lists of ingredients
  • Creations that are not fixed in a tangible form
  • Information that has no original authorship, like calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers
  • Elements of industrial designs devoid of original decorative qualities
  • Common symbols or designs
  • Geometric shapes
  • Basic typographic ornamentation

See What Does Copyright Protect? from the U.S Copyright Office for details regarding content not covered by copyright. Spoiler, your sighting of Elvis cannot be copyrighted.

For a deep dive into a court case that copyrighted the Batmobile, see Michael Deamer’s article in JSTOR, DC Comics v. Towle: Protecting Fictional Characters through Stewardship.



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Connecticut College Pressbooks Creator Guide by Ariela McCaffrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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