Copyright FAQ: What Can’t Be Protected?

Under U.S. copyright law, protection is only given to “original works of authorship.” This means ideas and concepts cannot be protected by copyright.

But what else can’t be copyrighted?

As explained by the U.S. Copyright Office, in order to be protected, a work must contain “a certain minimum amount of authorship in the form of original literary, musical, pictorial, or graphic expression.” This means that words and phrases don’t qualify, even if they are novel or distinctive or feature a clever play on words.

For example, the Copyright Office will not register the following:

  • Names of products or services
  • Names of businesses, organizations, or groups (including the names of performing groups)
  • Pseudonyms of individuals (including pen or stage names)
  • Titles of works
  • Catchwords, catchphrases, mottoes, slogans, or short advertising expressions
  • Listings of ingredients, as in recipes, labels, or formulas.

Of course, although slogans and product names can’t be copyrighted, they can still often be protected under state and federal trademark laws.

How Can I Help?

To find out what intellectual property protections may be available for your business, I encourage you to consult with an experienced IP attorney such as myself.


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