No, You Cannot Copyright an Idea!

Many people are taken advantage of on this issue. They are convinced that legal protection exists  for mere ideas. It does not. Really, it does not even make sense that you can protect an idea if you take a moment to think it through. For example, your “idea” is a book or movie or play that involves a couple from families that hate each other, and what happens as a result. Do you have any idea how many books and movies use that Romeo and Juliet theme, none of which are actually Romeo and Juliet? Thousands, none of which would exist if the mere idea, or concept, was or could have been legally protected.

Copyright protection extends to, and only to “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”  This means that it is the work created from the idea, once it is fixed, that is protected, not the idea underlying the work.  The Copyright Act enumerates exactly what can be copyrighted.

  • 102 . Subject matter of copyright: In general

 (a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of     authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

  1.  literary works;
  2.  musical works, including any accompanying words;
  3.  dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  4.  pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5.  pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6.  motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7.  sound recordings; and
  8.  architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or  embodied in such work. ( Title 17 U.S.C. Ch. 1, Copyright Act of 1976, emphasis added.)

Pay particular attention to part (b) of the above statute, as emphasized. One simply cannot obtain copyright protection for an idea or concept, whatever anyone tells you. It also should be noted that “idea” or “concept” are not on the list of categories in (a) that qualify as original works of authorship or creation.

If you say this is wrong, that you have a copyright on an idea, you have no such thing.You may even have a Copyright certificate, but it is not the idea that is protected.

The idea is not, was not and never will be protected under the copyright law. There is one way and only one way to protect an idea: Silence.

If this office may be of service to you in filing with the US Copyright Office and the peripheral issues accompanying copyright, please contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss your needs and how we may be of service.