Copyright Basics FAQ

Does copyright protect an author's creative ideas?

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Questions:

Answer:

Does copyright protect an author's creative ideas?

No. Copyright shelters only fixed, original, and creative expression, not the ideas or facts upon which the expression is based. For example, copyright may protect a particular song, novel, or computer game about a romance in space, but it cannot protect the underlying idea of having a love affair among the stars. Allowing authors to monopolize their ideas would thwart the underlying purpose of copyright law, which is to encourage people to create new work.

For similar reasons, copyright does not protect facts -- whether scientific, historical, biographical, or news of the day. Any facts that an author discovers in the course of research are in the public domain, free to all. For instance, anyone is free to use information included in a book about how the brain works, an article about the life and times of Neanderthals, or a TV documentary about the childhood of President Clinton -- provided that that they express the information in their own words.

Facts are not protected even if the author spends considerable time and effort discovering things that were previously unknown. For example, the author of the book on Neanderthals takes ten years to gather all the necessary materials and information for her work. At great expense, she travels to hundreds of museums and excavations around the world. But after the book is published, any reader is free to use the results of this ten-year research project to write his or her own book on Neanderthals -- without paying the original author.

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