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U.S. copyright law[]

Under U.S. copyright law, an idea is not entitled to copyright protection,[1] while an original expression of that idea is. Arguably, protection of a new idea would "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" by providing incentives for those who create ideas. But copyright law does not so hold. Although denying copyright protection to new ideas "may seem unfair," it "encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work." [2] "This principle, known as the idea/expression or fact/expression dichotomy, applies to all works of authorship."[3]

Although "ideas" are excluded from copyright protection, courts have determined that "ideas" contained in copyrighted material are within the scope of the Copyright Act, because the scope of the Act is broader than its protection.[4]


  1. 17 U.S.C. §102(b) (“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”)
  2. Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 349-50 (1991) (full-text).
  3. Id. at 350. See, e.g., Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186 (2003) (full-text) ("A reader of an author's writing may make full use of any fact or idea she acquires from her reading. See 17 U.S.C. §102(b).").
  4. See U.S. ex. rel. Berge v. Trustees of the Univ. of Ala., 104 F.3d 1453 (4th Cir. 1997) (full-text) (finding a state claim for conversion of "ideas" contained in copyrighted doctoral thesis is preempted by the Copyright Act); Entous v. Viacom Int'l, inc., 151 F.Supp.2d 1150 (C.D. Cal. 2001) (full-text); Selby v. New Line Cinema Corp., 96 F.Supp.2d 1053 (C.D. Cal. 2001) (full-text); Firoozye v. Earthlink Network, 153 F.Supp.2d 1115 (N.D. Cal. 2001) (full-text).

See also[]