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Not all creative works are eligible for federal copyright protection. Unprotected categories include:  

  • intangible expressions of work (ex: choreographed works that haven't been recorded or noted, improvised performances that haven't been recorded or written)
  • titles, names, short phrases, and slogans (note that names and slogans of companies may be trademarked) 
  • familiar symbols or designs, or variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring 
  • lists of ingredients or contents (ex: pure recipes or nutritional contents) 
  • pure ideas (ex: you cannot copyright the concept of "spoon") 
  • procedures, methods, systems or processes (ex: you cannot copyright your company's podcast production method)
  • concepts, principles or discoveries (note that while you can copyright the description, explanation or illustration of those concepts, you can't copyright the principles themselves, since they are abstract ideas)
  • genetic code (note that if you create a gene, you can file for a patent) 
  • common property or unoriginal authorship (ex: calendars, rulers, metric charts such as for height and weight)

In addition, there are some cases where even if the work is a tangible instance of original authorship, you cannot claim the copyright. For example, if you are an employee hired to create works for an employer, the employer owns the copyright, not you.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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