5 Creative Works You May Not Know Should Be Copyrighted

Do you work hard to create original works that you’re proud of? If so, you certainly want to protect those works from copycats.

To get an idea of whether your creative works can be copyrighted, read through the requirements for copyright protection. The two most important qualifications are that the work is original and that it is fixed in a permanent, reproducible way.

Now, I have to mention that this article is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. Copyright law can be overwhelming and confusing, which is why I suggest you always seek legal counsel when dealing with these things. I did a quick Google search for copyright attorneys in my city and found several reputable firms. (Example)

We could talk about songs and paintings, but I thought it would be interesting to discuss creative works that most people don’t realize should (or even could) be copyrighted. Here are five unsuspecting creative works that are protected by copyright law.

1. Sculptures

You are probably aware that paintings and photographs can be protected by copyright, but it might not have crossed your mind that sculptures are also protected by copyright law. Sculptures are classified under “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” This includes prints, paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, illustrations, and art reproductions.

Non-traditional art, such as charts, maps, globes, book/magazine designs, and advertising art are all categorized together and protected by copyright. The primary requirement is that the work has, at minimum, a low level of originality.

Here’s the catch – there’s always a catch, right? Copyright doesn’t protect utilitarian objects or language.

According to the Useful Articles (FL-103) section of copyright law: “Copyright never protects the mechanical or utilitarian aspects of an article, whether useful or not. No matter how novel, distinctive, or aesthetically pleasing any clasps, motors, or other functioning parts of an article may be, copyright does not protect them. But copyright may protect authorship in pictorial, graphic, or sculptural designs that can be identified separately from, or exist independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.”

For further clarification, you should seek legal counsel to find out if your work is protected or not.

2. Mime Performances

Mimes are known for mimicking others during street performances, but if you decide to copy their routine you could be infringing on their copyright. Mime performances, ballets, and dances are all classified as “pantomimes and choreographic works” and are protected by copyright.

To qualify for copyright protection, a choreographic work has to be documented and described in enough detail that the performance could be reproduced. This could be done by videotaping, photographing, or simply writing detailed notes of the routine.

3. Architectural Designs

While it may come as no surprise that architectural blueprints are protected by copyright, you’ve likely never considered that a building itself could be. Architectural drawings, blueprints, and actual buildings are all protected under the “architectural works” category of copyright law.

As mentioned before, copyright doesn’t protect the standard features and aspects that make the building habitable or useful. However, copyright does protect the composition and arrangement of various elements in the design, as well as the overall form.

Deciding whether an arrangement or composition is original or not can be tricky, and this is another area where you would want to seek professional legal advice. Generally, the protected works must have a creative purpose, instead of a functional purpose, to be protected.

4. Plays

Plays differ from choreographic works, and are classified under “dramatic works,” including any accompanying words. TV scripts, plays, and screenplays are all classified as dramatic works. Interestingly, screenplays can also be classified as literary works. This illustrates the importance of knowing precisely what it is that you are protecting when applying for copyright protection.

5. Email

That’s right, original emails you send out every day can be protected by copyright. Email is categorized under literary works, which is a catch-all term that protects “works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied.”

This category also protects non-literary works such as catalogs and databases. In the case of the internet, blog posts, emails, and even posts on forums fall into this category. According to this Northeastern University Law Journal paper, for an email to be copyright protected it must be “an original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” If the email is original and contains more than a few words, it likely meets the minimum requirement as an “original work of authorship.”

Kyle Stout is a freelance writer based out of Houston, TX. His brief knowledge on law comes from years of self-employment.

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