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NYC Litigation Blog

Friday, November 8, 2019

What Can Be Copyrighted?

A copyright is a form of legal protection for works of original authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright protection can apply to both published or unpublished works. From the moment the work is created, it is under copyright protection. While you are not required to register your copyright in order for your work to receive copyright protection, it is usually recommended. Registration means that there is a public record of you owning the copyright to your work. In some instances, it can create a presumption of ownership which can be helpful in the event of any copyright litigation. Registration can also be necessary if you seek to file suit for copyright infringement. For a work to receive copyright protection however, it must be the type of material eligible for copyright.

What Can Be Copyrighted?

There is a lot to unpack from the statement “works of original authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” These are the things that are eligible for copyright protection. An original work of authorship means that only the original creator or an authorized agent may obtain a copyright. To be fixed in a tangible medium of expression means that the work is directly perceptible or is perceptible with the help of a machine or other device. This means that something like a speech, in and of itself, is not eligible for copyright. It is, however, eligible for copyright if it is fixed in a tangible medium such as an audio or video recording or if it is written down.

Specifically, the following are examples of things that may be copyrighted:

  • Literary works: novels, poetry, articles, directories, advertising, speeches, and computer software
  • Dramatic works: plays, operas, musicals, screenplays, and movies
  • Musical works: Songs, both the musical notation and the words
  • Recorded sounds: music, voice, sound effects, speeches, and nature sounds
  • Architectural works: although previously not possible, now not only the plans to a building are eligible for copyright, but the building itself as well pursuant to the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act of 1990
  • Derivative works: works that are derived from other original works may be eligible for copyright if they are based on an already existing work but use creativity to alter the original form

You cannot copyright things that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression. You are unable to copyright things like titles, short phrases, or slogans. These kinds of things may be eligible for protections like trademarks or service marks. You cannot copyright symbols and designs that are commonly known. A small change to a symbol such as lettering or coloring will still not make it eligible for copyright. Also, while a recipe with instructions may be copyrighted, the simple listing of ingredients is not eligible for copyright.

New York City Copyright Attorney

Copyright law is complex to the point where it is sometimes unclear whether something is even eligible for copyright protection. For all of your copyright and intellectual property questions, Attorney Thomas M. Lancia is here for you. Contact Attorney Lancia today.

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