Copyright Protection – What Is Not Protected?

According to the U.S. Copyright office, there are several categories of material that are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include:

Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)

The key here is that the works are not in a “fixed form.” When you write it down or make an audio or video recording, that is a fixed form and is eligible for copyright protection.

Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents

Although these can not be covered by a copyright, they may be eligible for trademark or perhaps patent protection. A trademark covers names and slogans, logos, designs, typographic logos, etc. The listing of ingredients or contents may be eligible for patent protection. For more information on trademarks, service marks and patents, see

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

Many of these may be eligible for patent protection. According the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are three types of patents:

1)Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;

2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and

3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

“Ideas” are generally not eligible for protection under intellectual property law; however, expression and execution of ideas may be. For example, you can not copyright an idea for a story about young lovers who are drawn together despite family or social conflict, with the ending involving the tragic death of one or both of the young lovers. How many times have you read that story, or seen it on stage or film? The idea for the story is not unique; however, the expression of the idea (e.g., Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Love Story, etc.) is.

Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

Although you can not copyright the fact that October 15, 2009 will fall on a Thursday, you may copyright the layout and design of a calendar. For example, you may copyright a calendar format you created for medical offices to record appointments, or a wall calendar you published containing your photographs or other original work.

The information presented here is a general discussion of intellectual property rights in the United States, and is not intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney or other professional. For more information about copyrights, visit the U.S. Copyright Office at

Cathy Stucker is the author of many books, ebooks, audio programs and more. As the IdeaLady, she helps authors, publishers and professionals attract customers and make themselves famous with creative marketing strategies. Learn more at