What Is Not Protected by Copyright

What is not protected by copyright? Copyright protection offers a powerful remedy for people who create original works, but copyright doesn't extend to everything. What's eligible for copyright protection, and what isn't?

Copyrights protect only works of original authorship.
If you use someone else's work in order to create your own, or as a portion of your work, your copyright protection extends only to your original authorship. For example, if you include a piece of writing that exists in the public domain in your original work, the only thing that your copyright protects is your original work, not the item you use from the public domain.

This applies to music, literature or anything else eligible for copyright protection. That also means that you cannot copyright works that exist as part of the public domain, as those works are not original authorship.

Facts versus means of expression.
One of the biggest misconceptions about copyright law is the degree to which content is protected. Basically, when you're talking copyright, you can't copyright facts. If you come up with an original way to express those facts, the way in which you convey it may be eligible for copyright protection.

However, the Supreme Court has ruled that facts themselves exist independent of expression, so any expression of facts is merely an expression, or a discovery of facts. The facts themselves exist whether or not people express them, so facts cannot be copyrighted.

You can't copyright ideas.
Ideas are similar to facts; you may be able to copyright the way in which you express them, but ideas themselves are not eligible for copyright protection. This gets into sort of a murky territory of copyright, trademark and patent. If you invent something, for example, you may be able to patent your invention, but that only prevents people from using your exact specifications. If someone else invents a completely different version of an item that does the same thing yours does, it's not eligible for protection.

The same thing applies to copyright law. You may be able to copyright the exact way in which you express an idea or concept. But the idea or concept itself is free for anyone else to use. Someone can express the exact same idea in a different way and not be committing copyright infringement. However, this is a murky area, so you may want to consult a copyright lawyer for information about your specific case if you feel your copyright has been infringed.

You can't copyright processes or procedures.
Processes and procedures are not eligible for copyright protection. If it's a concept that someone else can express in a different way, then said person is free to express it. Lists are not eligible for copyright protection, either, so things like recipes cannot be copyrighted. Original descriptive elements of recipes may be eligible for copyright protection, in the way that they're written, but if someone else expresses those elements in a different way, it's not copyright infringement.

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