Copyrighting Ideas and Facts

Copyright law protects the tangible expression of ideas and facts, not the ideas and facts themselves. Copyright protects only fixed, original and creative expression, not the underlying ideas or facts upon which the expression is based. Works that have not been fixed are just ideas and ideas are fair game for everyone to express in their own words. Allowing authors to monopolize their ideas would defeat the underlying purpose of copyright law, which is to encourage people to create new work. While, the expression of ideas in writing or in drawings may be protected by a copyright in the description, the copyright will not protect the idea itself. This exclusion helps maintain the distinction between copyright protection and patent law. Ideas and inventions are the subject matter for patents, while the expression of ideas is governed by copyright law. If copyright were extended to protect ideas, principles and devices, then it would be possible to circumvent the rigorous prerequisites of patent law and secure protection for an invention merely by describing the invention in a copyrightable work.

Legally Protectable Ideas


The elements for a claim of idea misappropriation are that the idea must be novel as well as concrete and there must be a legal relationship between the parties, whether by an express contract, a contract implied-in-fact, a quasi-contract or a fiduciary relationship. Copyright protection extends to a description, explanation or illustration of an idea. assuming that the requirements of the copyright law are met. Copyright in such a case protects the particular literary or pictorial expression chosen by the author. However, it gives the copyright owner no exclusive rights in the idea involved. The courts define the borderline between expression and idea.


No Copyright Protection for Basic Facts


There is no copyright protection in basic facts. A fact is considered synonymous with an idea. It makes no difference how much effort went into discovering a particular fact. Even if it took a great deal of research to discover a fact, it is still not protectable under copyright laws. It is possible that a compilation of facts is protectable as a compilation, as long as the compilation required a minimum degree of originality.


No Copyright Protection for Blank Forms


There is no copyright protection for blank forms. Although graphical or literary elements that might be found on a form are subject to copyright protection, there is no copyright in the blank form itself. The blank form is considered a type of idea.

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