This article provides concise and clear answers to commonly asked questions about the types of works protected by copyright.
As always, please don’t rely on our short, practical answers as legal advice or opinions. Contact an attorney should you require legal advice or opinion on copyright protection.
I’ve found a slogan I’d like to use in an article for publication. Is the slogan protected by copyright?
Generally, slogans aren’t protected by copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office states that “titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents” aren’t protected by copyright. However, be aware that if a slogan is associated with a product or service, it may have trademark protection.
You may be interested in our article What Is the Public Domain?
I’m writing a book on copyright law for laypeople. I’m not a lawyer and 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?
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.
Also see the article Are Ideas Protected by Copyright Law?
How do you know if content on a website is protected by copyright?
It’s best to assume that all content on a website is protected by copyright unless and until you investigate otherwise. Treat website 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 (e.g., 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.
What types of U.S. government works are protected by copyright?
An example of a copyright-protected U.S. government work is a work prepared by a consultant (non-federal government employee). In this situation, the government may obtain an assignment of copyright from the consultant, in which case there would be government ownership of 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. (Free use and fair use are two different concepts, not to be confused.)
For more information on which government works are protected by copyright in the U.S.,
see the article Copyright in U.S. Government Works.
If someone makes an unscripted speech is it protected by copyright?
For a work to be copyright protected, it must be in a “fixed” form; in other words, it needs to be in a tangible medium of expression, like a handwritten letter, a drawing, saved to a computer file, a camera memory card, et cetera. Therefore, unscripted speeches aren’t copyright-protected works until they are transcribed or recorded.
To learn more about copyright law, see our roster of online copyright courses.