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What Can Be Copyrighted?

Copyright is governed under federal law and gives authors the right to control the use of their works for a limited period of time. In order to be copyrighted, the work must be an original work of authorship, which is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Copyrightable works include the following categories:

  1. literary works;
  2. musical works, including accompanying words;
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  4. chorographical works;
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7. sound recordings; and
  8. architectural works.

The above categories have generally been viewed broadly. For example, maps may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works,” and computer programs may be registered as “literary works.” 17 U.S.C. § 102(a).

Generally, several categories of material are not eligible for copyright protections, however other types of intellectual property may be applicable. Some of these include:

  1. titles, names, short phrases, and slogans (e.g. the Nike slogan “Just do it”);
  2. familiar symbols or designs;
  3. ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, discoveries, or devices (e.g. the list of ingredients for recipes);
  4. facts, news, and research (e.g. calendars, rulers); and
  5. works that have not been fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

A work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression when it is recorded in some physical medium such as paper, disk, or a computer hard drive. Examples of works that have not been fixed in tangible forms of expression include improvisational performances or speeches that have not been recorded or choreographic works that have not been recorded or notated.

If you need assistance in determining whether filing a copyright is right for you, call Roland Tong or email Mr. Tong at [email protected]. Mr. Tong has been obtaining patent, trademark, and copyright protections for his clients since 2001. He has represented a wide range of clients from start-up companies to Fortune 500 companies in a wide range of industries.