Demystifying copyright protection | Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig LLC

These days, it seems nearly impossible for most people to go a day without using the internet. For some, that means not reading daily news articles online by swiping their smartphone screens. For others, that means not posting real-time Instagram stories to their social media account. Indeed, the Internet has brought instant and easy access to a variety of written and visual materials. However, it also brought misconceptions about works protected by copyright laws. For example, if a person has contributed certain ideas in the creation of new materials, some think that alone automatically makes the materials copyrighted. Unfortunately, that’s not what US copyright law says.

Copyright protection does not cover ideas. However, copyright protects expressions of ideas. These expressions can exist in different forms, including, but not limited to, literary works, visual works, sound recordings, performances, and sculptures. For example, the estates of the late comedians Robin Williams and George Carlin, along with other comedians, recently filed a lawsuit against Pandora, a well-known streaming platform, alleging infringement of their stand-up comedy works. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Pandora had publicly performed, broadcast, reproduced, displayed and distributed their duly registered products, literary their works without their consent. The fundamental bases of these infringement claims were that these comedians’ ideas about their jokes, remarks, and moves were actually put into a tangible, physical format (as literary works), and they were therefore entitled to claim copyright protection and enforce their rights against the infringing third party. If they had just thought about how they presented their jokes on stage, shared them with other people and did nothing more, it would have gotten them nowhere. Or worse, such sharing would have allowed other people to create their own works based on the ideas and claim ownership of those works.

While putting one’s work into a physical form of expression is indeed a necessary element, that alone is not enough to qualify for copyright protection; expressions in such work must also be sufficiently original. This generally means that the author of the work must make sufficient independent selections and arrangements of existing facts that show a minimum level of creativity. A good example of a literary work considered uncopyrightable comes from a famous United States Supreme Court case in which a party published a typical telephone directory consisting of white pages and yellow pages. , and has obtained data for the directory from subscribers, who must provide their names. and addresses for obtaining telephone service. The court in the case concluded that the aforementioned white pages are not copyrightable because “[t]Raw data is uncopyrighted facts, and how [that party] selected, coordinated and arranged these facts is in no way original. The court also said that the “selection of lists [in the white pages that are at issue] – subscribers’ names, cities and phone numbers – couldn’t be more obvious and lacks the minimum creativity needed to turn a simple selection into a copyrightable expression.

In short, not all works are copyrighted, and one should not simply put the copyright symbol © on any work he uses for fear that someone else might use this work. As with all other property rights, a person must first understand what their rights are, and the scope of those rights, before thinking about taking action against others. In the copyright context, this means making the determination of copyright protection by looking at the requirements mentioned above. But, determining whether these requirements are met is often difficult from the outset because it involves heavily fact-based investigations – it often requires correct identification of the relevant facts, careful attention to the details of these and careful application of the laws. governing copyright to those facts. Having a knowledgeable and practical copyright attorney who has the sense to navigate your own situation can certainly help you identify and secure the rights to your creative works.

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