Landman Library

Types of Copyrighted Works

What can and cannot be copyrighted


What Can Be Copyrighted

A few common examples

The US Copyright Office describes some of the basics of what can be copyrighted. Go to The Copyright Desk's Copyright Basics webpage for a primer. Read the Copyright Basics pamphlet (US Copyright Office) for more information.

Many of the types of works that can be copyrighted are very familiar: books, webpages, photographs, music, sculptures.


What Cannot Be Copyrighted

A few opposing examples

What some may find interesting is what cannot be copyrighted. Ideas, slogans, recipes, and fashion designs are some of the types on this list.

Read the Works Not Protected by Copyright pamphlet (US Copyright Office) for more information.

  • Ideas are not in a fixed form and cannot qualify for copyright protection. The written description of an idea is fixed and can.
  • Slogans are too brief to qualify for copyright protection. But if they're connected to commerce, they can be trademarked.
  • Recipes are mere facts that cannot qualify for copyright protection. Descriptions of how to prepare a recipe can.


Other Forms of Intellectual Property Protection

A couple options to copyright protection

Even if certain kinds of works cannot qualify for copyright protection, they might qualify for trademark or patent protection.

Trademark  "A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others." ("Protecting Your Trademark." US Patent and Trademark Office, 2020. Accessed 2 Sept. 2020.)

Patent  "...Any person who 'invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent...'" ("General Information Concerning Patents." US Patent and Trademark Office, 2015. Accessed 2 Sept. 2020.)