Exceptions to Copyright Law: Facts, Short Phrases, Government Works, and Fair Use

There are four primary exceptions to copyright law. First: facts are not covered by copyright protection. Simply put, there is no way to gain copyright protection of facts. So if journalist xyz discovers that prominent politician John Doe took a bribe and journalist xyz publishes such a fact in a published book, other journalists are not prevented from also saying that John Doe took a bribe, even though it was xyz who figured out this astonishing fact (although for ethical though not legal reasons, credit should certainly be given to the journalist who discovered the fact). On the other hand, copying XYZ’s entire book, or even just a paragraph of it, would likely be considered copyright infringement. This is because copyright protection laws seek to protect the way a content creator expresses his content, but not the facts within the content.

Second, copyright protection is not available for short phrases. Instead, protecting a short phrase would necessitate trademark protection. An example would be Nike’s, “Just Do It” slogan, which has trademark protection but does not deserve copyright protection. However, filing a trademark is more costly (approximately $275-$375 versus approximately $35); much more difficult to file (paying an I.P. lawyer a few thousand dollars is usually necessary for a layman to ensure his trademark is filed correctly and accepted); and most importantly, filing a trademark usually requires that the phrase be already identified with the company in the minds of the public (to what degree and how it is measured is a gray area, hence the necessity of a good lawyer). Please click here to review the Web Defense Systems documents on trademark law for more detailed information.

Third, government documents, or at least those documents created by the federal government of the United States, are not subject to copyright protection. This means that individuals and companies are allowed to copy and reproduce the laws of the U.S. government without fear of being sued. Hence, you don’t have to worry about getting a copyright infringement lawsuit from the feds for selling copies of the Constitution.

The fourth and by far most important exception to copyright infringement is called “Fair Use.” For a complete explanation of Fair Use, please click here to read our next document.

Disclaimer: The purpose of our “Knowledge Base” documents is to explain the basics of the subject matter in question and to provide some rationale behind the actions that Web Defense Systems might take on behalf of our clients. We are not lawyers, and the preceding information should not be used in lieu of legal advice.