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What does copyright not protect?

There are many things that copyright does not protect. It does not protect information or facts, principles, concepts or ideas. This is often referred to as the idea-expression dichotomy. That is, copyright does not protect ideas, it only protects the way in which an author has chosen to express a particular idea in words or music or art. This is one of the most fundamental principles of copyright law.

For example, you may have a brilliant idea for a story, a photograph or a melody, but while it remains just an idea it is not protected by copyright. So, if you told someone else about your idea, there is nothing you can do to stop that person from writing a novel, or creating their own song, based on your idea. Your idea, while it remains no more than an idea, is not protected by copyright.

It is only when you express your idea in some particular form that copyright springs into life. It is the way in which you express your particular ideas – whether through words, musical notes or brushstrokes on a canvas – that is protected by copyright.

In this way creators are given the opportunity to benefit from their own personal expression, while the general ideas underpinning a work remain available for others to use.

In the UK the law also typically requires that your work is fixed in some tangible form before it can be copyright-protected. Dick’s idea for a robot is fixed in a tangible form when he draws it in his sketch pad. Generally, when considering artistic works, such as a photograph or a drawing, the point of creation and the point of fixation occur in the same moment. However, this is not necessarily true for literary, dramatic or musical works. Jazz musicians, for example, often improvise when playing or performing, but unless their improvisations are recorded or fixed in some way they will not be protected by copyright.

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This video is from the free online course:

Music Copyright: Understanding UK Copyright Law When Working with Music

University of Glasgow