6 things that can’t be copyrighted

The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to things you can copyright: nearly.

6 things that can't be copyrighted

A copyright is the exclusive legal right to print, publish, perform, film or record literary, artistic or musical material, and to authorise others to do the same. Copyright laws were established with the purpose of legally protecting expressions of ideas and information. They grant exclusive rights for creative works for a specified period of time – after a copyright expires, the content priorly protected under it becomes "fair game" and is available to the public penalty-free and without restriction. Copyright renewal is a process an individual can undergo if they wish to extend the period of their protection.

Copyright owners in Australia have exclusive rights to the works they have created or own, and the copyright is infringed when the works are used by someone that is not in a position to do so legally. Common examples of copyright infringement include republishing, downloading and uploading unauthorised copies of materials and reproducing or performing copyrighted work in a public space without the owner's prior consent.

The copyrighted work does not need to be used in its entirety for an act to be classified as copyright infringement. Australian copyright law defines "substantial copying" as grounds for infringement, with the specifics on this ruling needed to be worked out on a case-by-case basis. The test for what is a substantial portion is often a qualitative rather than a quantitative test, according to Whirlpool. It is the quality or essence of what has been taken rather than the amount that will often determine whether the portion taken is grounds for action.

You can use copyright law to protect creative works including written material, recordings, paintings, photographs, software, broadcasts and industrial and architectural designs, among other things. The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to things you can copyright – the key word being "nearly." Here are six things that can't be copyrighted.

1. Common Knowledge
Common knowledge includes examples like standard calendars, height and weight charts, telephone directories, tape measures and lists or tables taken from public documents. This applies to facts with no known authorship, for example, you cannot copyright the phrase "grass is green."

2. Ideas, Methods, and Systems
Ideas, methods and systems cannot be protected under copyright. This includes the making or building of things, scientific or technical methods or discoveries, business operations or procedures, mathematical principles, formulas and algorithms or any other concept, process or method of operation, according to Legal Zoom. If it's not tangible, it can't be copyrighted.

3. Recipes
Recipes or formulas that are not compiled into a cookbook or similar publication are not able to be protected under copyright. This applies not only to food recipes, but also to formulas for compounds and prescriptions. Even in cases where a cookbook is published, the recipes themselves still aren't under copyright, according to Inc. 

4. Choreography and Speeches
A choreographic work cannot be protected under copyright unless it has been recorded on video or transcribed, regardless of whether the choreography was original. This also applies to non-transcribed speeches and other performing arts, according to Legal Zoom. 

5. Names, Titles, Short Phrases
Names, titles and short phrases and expressions can't be copyrighted either. This means you can't own the exclusive rights to any slogan, product description, title of work or business name. However, these can be trademarked.

6. Clothing
In general, things that have a utilitarian function cannot be copyrighted, according to Inc. Any particular article of clothing is not protected by copyright law because clothes are considered "useful articles." The designs for these pieces can be patented instead. The only aspect of clothing which can be copyrighted is fabric pattern, with a notable example being Burberry plaid.

It's important to remember that even if your idea can't be copyrighted, there are still options to protect your intellectual property with patents and trademarks. Because there is no set method for registering copyright in Australia, it's wise to approach the experts to plan a strategy around the protection of your ideas.

The open nature of copyright law in the legal system means things can get complicated if you believe your ideas or works have been falsely represented, reproduced or published. Without professional guidance, your ability to profit from or simply preserve your intellectual property could be compromised if competing parties attempt to distort or steal your ideas and pose them as their own. Seeing as copyrighting is such a complicated legal process, there are many ways to ensure your copyright is protected and that your profit is maximised – that's where Alder IP comes in. Learn more about our copywriting, patenting and trade marking resources and services on our website, or make an appointment for a free consultation to walk through your unique situation and needs.