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What an Intelligent Small Business Owner Needs to Know About Copyright Law - Part 1

Your Idea alone cannot be Protected

An entrepreneur calls me with a new way to code medical claims and wants me to “copyright” their business. They get agitated when I tell them their business idea is hard to protect, and they can’t copyright an idea.

Copyright protects “original works of human authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” This means copyright law protects the author’s individual expression of an idea, and not the idea itself.

That is why there are so many paintings of bowls of fruit that don’t infringe each other. We could even stand side-by-side and take a picture of the sun setting over downtown Durham, and our pictures don’t infringe each other.

The right for an author to profit from their vision, skill and work comes directly from the Constitution: Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution grants Congress the power "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

So copyright would protect the photographs or artwork you have commissioned for your website and brochures. (Stay tuned next week to see step two in protecting your commissioned artwork).

Copyright can also protect books, articles, architectural drawings, audio-visual works, compositions, recordings, sculpture, choreography and some software. It does not protect:

• Ideas, method or systems • Discoveries or inventions • Recipes • Procedures • Typeface, fonts, lettering, layout and design • Familiar symbols and designs • Natural phenomena • Facts • Titles • Logos


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