Copyright Qs & As: Types of Works Protected by Copyright

2.1 Question: I am writing a book on copyright law for laypeople. I am not a lawyer and am getting much of my research is from other books on copyright, rather than giving my opinion on the Copyright Act and court cases. Is this legal?

Answer: There is no copyright in ideas, facts or information. Therefore, you may use the ideas, facts or information in the books you are using for research purposes. However, you may not reproduce the exact wording from these books. (2006-4)

2.2 Question: How do you know if content in a Web site is protected by copyright?

Answer: It is best to assume that all content in a Web site is protected by copyright unless and until you investigate otherwise. Treat Web site content as you would any other content. Check for any copyright notices, and any statements stating whether you may use the content in specified circumstances without first obtaining permission, for example, in a nonprofit setting. Be careful in using any older works that appear to be in the public domain, as adapted portions of these works may be protected by copyright. (2007-3)

2.3 Question: What types of U.S. government works are protected by copyright?

Answer: An example is a work prepared by a consultant (non-federal government employee). In this situation, the government may get an assignment of copyright from the consultant and therefore there would be a government copyright in that consultant’s work. If a federal government employee prepares a document, then there is no copyright protection in that document and anyone may freely use it. (Freely use is and fair use are two different concepts, not to be confused.)


  1. Lesley says:

    Hi Angie, you may use ideas but may not copy or reproduce a work without getting copyright permission. If you use the ideas in a stage prop but create it from scratch yourself, it is likely not a copyright infringement. But it would depend on the facts in any particular situation.

  2. Lesley says:

    Hi Phil, the more different your story, characters, etc. are, the better! This is a question of fact that only a judge could decide in a court of law. Generally, ideas are not protected but you would have to consider whether your use is beyond an “idea” – not something that’s easy to answer.

  3. angie says:

    I have a question that seems to be somewhat in the blur for me.
    If someone staged props for a picture .( for instance a daisy flower on a white background.Can I use a daisy on a white background for my pictures also?? Would this be a copyright infringement ?
    thanks angie

  4. Phil says:

    I’m working on an idea for a kid’s story; I’ve researched titles of other books in the genre and there are stories which use character names which I would have liked to use. My character would have the same name but an entirely different storyline. Would it still infringe copyright? For example if my story was about dog named Lassie but my Lassie was, not a lovable collie but a German Schnauser who rather than be the helpful dog on TV was a demon dog from hell who just happened to have the same name. This is the kind of scenario I’m asking about.

  5. Lesley says:

    Hi Gary, you may want to check to see if there are any restrictions at that museum regarding the taking of images – this would not necessarily be a copyright issue but something that the museum is restricting by virtue of contract and allowing you into the premises. You may even be allowed to take images for personal use but not for uploading to the internet to sell – go back and check!

  6. Gary Lee says:

    I took a photograph of an airplane that is on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. Am I allowed to upload the image to the internet in order to sell it? Thank you.

  7. Lesley says:

    Hi David, there is copyright protection in each individual work (provided the work is not in the public domain) and in the compilation as a whole. Using part of the compilation without permission is a matter of fact that has to be decided in each specific case. However, using a “substantial” part of the compilation may require permission. You may need to do a fair use analysis in this situation. There is no clear cut answer.

  8. David Clark says:

    I’m wondering about compilation copyright — which I’ve run across through a few searches, but don’t quite understand how it would apply in one specific situation. Here’s the situation: Let’s say there’s a print or digital collection of quotations; the individual quotations themselves might qualify for the public domain, but the compilation as a whole, as I understand it, would be copyrighted in its own right, as a compilation representing original work. What if someone uses that quotation collection as a source of their own, uses it to locate quotations for a different collection? For example, let’s say A made a collection of oxymoron quotations; B is making a collection of quotations that illustrate a number of rhetorical devices; B finds A’s collection and uses it as a supply of lots of oxymoron quotations for his own compilation. A didn’t copy the compilation-as-a-whole from B; and A could have, through research, found ALL of those quotations himself; but he didn’t, he benefited from the compiling that B already did. Is A doing something wrong? Or is such a use of B’s work something B has to accept, given the material he’s working with?

  9. Lesley says:

    Hi Howie, the transcript is protected by copyright however once on the web it may be difficult to enforce that copyright. Have you considered using any watermarks or drm?

  10. Howie Donahoe says:

    Recently, our Presbytery (organization of 25 churches) conducted a church disciplinary trial of a minister accused of teaching unorthodox views. I was the assistant to the defense counsel. The Presbytery would like to ensure that the trial transcript remains within its control, but it also plans to post it on the web for public review. Would this transcript be considered protected under copyright laws?

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