Last week’s Writing Wednesday post (oops…technically it was two weeks ago, due to the Thanksgiving holiday) focused on what kind of works receive copyright protection. As promised, this week we’re looking at works that are not covered by copyright.
Don’t panic. Remember, as a general rule novels and artistic or creative works receive protection under copyright law. However, copyright protection does not exist for:
1. Works protected by other areas of intellectual property law, for example “words, slogans and phrases” (protected by Trademark law), “ideas, procedures, processes, systems and methods” (protected by patent law), and Trade Secrets (protected by…you guessed it, trade secret law).
For novelists, this isn’t a problem – you’re not inventing machines, you’re writing stories, and original stories are subject to copyright protection.
2. The “building blocks” of creative expression, such as plot/character archetypes, themes, and general solutions to problems.
Want to make sure your copyright is strong? Create detailed characters with unique goals, appearances and dreams. The more specific your characters, the stronger your copyright (and your writing!).
3. Blank forms designed for recording information.
No problem here. A novel is more than fill in the blanks!
4. Historical facts.
This is an important one for those of us writing historical mysteries and/or historical fiction. (Alternative history too!) You won’t be able to stop someone else from using the same facts and historical figures, so make sure your portrayal is distinctive. The more unique your portrayal, the stronger your copyright. That said…be careful not to cross the line into defamation, especially if your subject is still alive!
5. Government Works (created by or for the government), for example, the text of laws. The government can hold copyrights transferred to it by others, however.
Two other doctrines which impact copyright are the “merger doctrine” and the “useful article” doctrine – tune in next week, and we’ll talk about how usefulness and merger impact copyright!
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