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Determining what does not fall under copyright law is much more clear once the definition of copyright is better understood.

What is Copyright?
Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or owner of an original work.  Copyright arises automatically upon an author’s or creator’s expression of an idea in an original, fixed form (for example, on paper, CD, memory stick, etc.).
The exclusive rights granted by copyright law include: the right to produce, reproduce, perform or publish the work in question.  As well, the owner of the copyright can transfer some or any of these rights to someone else.

The categories protected by Copyright Law include:
1. Literary Works: Nondramatic textual works.  They can be expressed with words, numbers or symbols and may contain illustrations.  Screenplays, dramas and plays should be under Dramatic/Performing Arts.  Examples: poems, manuals, computer programs
2. Dramatic Arts/Performing Arts: Works created for the purpose of being performed directly in front of an audience or indirectly, by means of an outlet like a sound recording, TV or movie theatre. Examples: musical works, scripts
3. Sound Recordings: Covers the actual fixed version of musical compositions or musical works; the actual sounds that are recorded.  Examples:  recorded lecture, recorded concert
4. Visual Arts/Artistic Works: Covers two-dimensional, three-dimensional, fine, graphic or applied art works. Examples: photographs, drawings, blueprints, sculptures
5. Serials and Periodicals: Works that are issued in successive parts; have chronological or numerical designations; and are intended to be continued indefinitely. Examples: newspapers, journals

What is not protected by Copyright?
There are some very important pieces of the copyright definition that, if not met, negate the work from falling under the protection of copyright law.

Original Work
For copyright to exist, the work must have a creative original aspect to it.  While the definition of ‘creative’ is fairly loose in the eyes of the court, they must see that there is some original aspect to the work.  Given this, information that is common property does not fall under copyright protection. These include:  tape measures/rulers, calendars, standard tables.
However, if one were to create an original representation of these (for example, original pictures to accompany the calendar) it would then be protected under copyright law.

Fixed Form
If the work has not been put in a tangible fixed form, it does not fall under copyright law.  In other words, if you sing an improvised song, you do not own the copyrights. However, if you write this song on a napkin, you do.

Expression of an Idea
Copyright protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself.  For instance, five people can write a book about ‘how to play the guitar’, as long as they each wrote it differently.  The idea of ‘how to play the guitar’ cannot be protected – just the expression of it.  As such, the following are not protected under copyright law: ideas, procedures, systems, methods of doing something, concepts, processes, devises, and discoveries.  As a reminder, if you describe (in a fixed form), record, or illustrate your expression of these – the actual way you expressed it can be protected.

Other Non –Copyrightable Items
Other items that are not protected under copyright law include: names, titles, slogans, factual information, themes, colours, catch-phrases, plots, laws, regulations, government documents, legislative reports and judicial opinions.

For information about what is protected under copyright law, please click: What Does Copyright Protect? The 5 Categories of Protection in Copyright Law

For more information about copyright, please click: Information on Copyright — Copyright Explained in 5 Easy Tips

Disclaimer: The above is meant as a general guide to further your copyright knowledge and does not constitute legal advice.  For questions about your specific work, you should consult a copyright lawyer in your country.

Author Bio
Justine Shoolman is the Co-Founder of Copyright Creators (www.copyrightcreators.com), a service inspired by the shortfalls of ‘poor man’s copyright’.  Copyright Creators protects copyright for life with no membership or renewal fees.  Visit Copyright Creators today and you’ll receive 4 free registrations to protect & create proof of your copyright online.

2 Responses to “What Is Not Protected by Copyright Law”

  1. Taylor says:

    Hey there,

    Great post! This has definitely helped me out with something I’ve been working on, but can not afford to patent it yet.

    So just to be clear, if I had an idea to alter a simple idea like, say a picture frame, but I had the idea to alter it in a way where people could use it day-to-day, could this idea/concept be copyrighted before patenting to at least protect for myself. Because it would be in a form of creativity and a type of art?

    Thank you very much!

  2. The Copyright Creators Team says:

    Hi Taylor,
    Thank you for your post.
    We are unable to advise you regarding the rights or copyright of your material. We would recommend you consult a copyright lawyer regarding your specific situation to ensure your work qualifies for protection.
    As a reminder, ideas/concepts are not protected under copyright law. It’s the actual expression of these in the form of Literary Work, Visual Arts, etc. that can be protected.
    Best of luck!

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