Friday, October 30, 2009

What is and is not copyrighted

Generally a copyright exists once a unique performance, work of art, or literary work comes into existence. However, not all content is considered to be copyrighted.

Writing methods of doing something, for example, is usually not considered copyrighted. Recipes and chemical preparation instructions are not copyrighted upon creation. However, certain content in relation to them might be copyrighted.

For example, writing, "Stir for 5 minutes and then add half a cup of widgets" would probably not be copyrighted because it's a basic set of universal technical instructions.

However, writing, "I stirred this for 6 minutes and then added half a cup of widgets, which reminds me of this one time I ate bad widgets and ended up annihilating my toilet the next day," might be considered copyrighted because it's actually a unique story trailing off into something other than a basic formula.

In addition, one might write their recipe in the form of a poem, or a song, or an audio-visual performance. In all of these cases the formula becomes only a part of a larger creative performance, and you will find that many cooking shows are protected by copyright law for this reason.

Facts can not be copyrighted, either. You cannot state that George Washington was the first President of the United States and expect to sue someone for repeating that fact. However, like the methods example above, if you made a creative performance based around the fact, such as a movie about his life, or a poem about Washington, that would be copyrighted.

There are other things that might be protected by some form of intellectual property law, but are not protected by copyright law. For example, many people often lump patents and trademarks into the same category as copyrights. You cannot register a trademark or a patent as a copyright. Trademarks are, as the name implies, marks used in the course of commerce. Though the artistic aspects of a graphic trademark might be copyrighted separately, many marks are just single words which cannot be copyrighted.

Erroneously registering trademarks as copyrights might sometimes not be too big of a deal, though, since trademarks are often protected automatically after they become established as being associated with a product.

The same does not hold true for patents. Patents are the right to exclude others from reproducing an invention for a period of time, and must be registered using a country's (usually intensive) patent registration process. Do not invent a flying car and expect that your invention will be protected by registering a copyright!

To summarize, most unique creative performances such as art, music, video, and literary works are considered copyrighted, while patents, trademarks, and basic formulae are not.

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