What Things Can Be Copyrighted?

Updated July 20, 2017

Copyright law protects an author's original works from being copied, sold, distributed or displayed without permission. The works can be published or unpublished. A copyright exists as soon as a work appears in a medium of expression such as a book, newspaper, newsletter, radio broadcast, television broadcast, performance, or website. Copyright protection does not apply to names, slogans, phrases or titles. It does not protect ideas or facts. Sometimes it protects how an author describes ideas or facts.


Original movies, movie scripts, screenplays, novels, non-fiction books, magazine articles, and poems are protected by copyright. A diary has copyright protection if it is your diary or if you inherited it. A video you shoot of a family picnic has a copyright and cannot be copied without your permission. You can record a movie, video, TV program or music without permission if the recording is only for your own personal use. You violate copyright law if you sell such a recording.


Original artwork including paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture have copyrights. As with all copyrighted material, an artist's work can be reproduced without permission if the reproduction is used in connection with news stories, teaching, art criticism or research.


Much of the content on the Internet is protected by copyright. Copyrighted works include e-mails, messages, blogs and news stories. Original graphics, illustrations, photographs and short stories have copyright protection when they appear on a website. Copyright also exists for a web page design, including the page's links, graphics and text. However, domain names are not protected by copyright.


Architectural designs are protected when they are expressed in a plan, drawing, or the building itself. Only structures that people live or work in have copyright protections. For instance, a bridge design cannot be copyrighted.


A software application's source code is protected by copyright when the programmer writes the source code. The source code is the only part of the software that can be copyrighted. The ideas of a software application are not protected by copyright.


Copyright law does not protect a list of ingredients for a food dish. Copyright may apply if a recipe includes significant explanations or directions. A collection of recipes may also be eligible for copyright protection, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.


Copyrights last for different periods of time. For most original works they last for 70 years after the author's death.

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About the Author

A California-based writer, Mike Williams has written since 1975 on the environment, health care and wildlife for more than 70 media outlets, including the "Detroit Free Press", Agence France-Press and CBS. Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Southern California.