What you can and cannot copyright

Copyright is just one form of protecting intellectual property. Patents and trademarks also offer protection for different types of intellectual property. Copyright only applies to qualifying works of original authorship. Here are some examples of things that copyright protection does not apply to.

Can I copyright a business name?

The name of your business is not a work of authorship and cannot be protected by copyright.

Can I copyright a song or book title?

Like a business name, a title cannot be protected by copyright. Whether for a song, movie or book, titles are not eligible for copyright protection.

Can I copyright a t-shirt design?

A design may be eligible for protection if it includes work of original authorship. If the design is primarily just text or a short phrase then the design will not be eligible for copyright protection. For more information, see our page on logo copyrights.

Can I copyright an idea for a script (or novel, or film)?

Copyright applies to works of original authorship in tangible form. If all you have is a general idea then no, copyright protection won’t apply. If you type up your idea into an outline you can copyright the outline. You cannot, however, protect the rights to the final work (the one you have the idea for) until you affix that work in tangible form, by writing the script or novel or by creating the film.

Can I copyright my logo?

Some logos qualify for copyright protection, while others do not. The difference is whether or not the logo contains a substantial element of original authorship, and is not simply an arrangement of letters. For more information on copyrighting logos, including examples, see our logo copyright test.

Can I copyright a website?

A website can be made up of many different things. Many components of a website do qualify for copyright protection, but some do not.

Website design.

Yes, you can copyright the design of the website as long as it is a work of original authorship. Copyright registration for a website’s design is similar to copyright registration for any other visual arts piece.

Website content.

Yes, you can copyright the content of the website as long as it is a work of original authorship and not content taken from another source. If you maintain a blog, for example, you can copyright your content regularly to ensure your work is protected. Note that in order to copyright the design and the content of a website you will have to file two separate copyright registrations.

Website code.

Some websites are powered by unique software. Software programs are eligible for copyright protection. If you have written a program for a website you are able to copyright that program. Typically you cannot copyright basic code (HTML, CSS) for a website.

Website business model.

A business model for a website probably is not eligible for copyright protection. If you have invented a new business model or system, it may be eligible for patent protection and you should contact a patent attorney.

Template sites.

If your website is based on a design template, uses little original content and does not have a unique and original software element then you may not want to try and copyright your website. If you use the template to set up a blog, the content of the site would be eligible for copyright protection.

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