Copyright does not protect all elements of a work. Elements not covered by copyright can therefore be copied and reused without permission or payment. Non-protected elements are the ideas that underlie a work as well as those that are imposed by functional requirements and for which the author therefore had no creative freedom.

The underlying ideas of a work

It are not the ideas that are protected, but the form given to them. The work is an idea that has "taken shape", and only this form is covered by copyright. It is therefore always allowed to take over an idea underlying a work, and to reuse this idea, by making it concrete in another way.

To be protected by copyright, a work doesn't need to be fixed on a tangible or material medium. For example a choreography, of which there is no tangible record, can be a work protected by copyright.

Also, the mere idea of creating a website that allows Internet users to send electronic greeting cards is not protected by copyright. The creation of such a website will therefore not in itself infringe the copyright of those who have already created an e-card site. However copyright infringement can occur if the site is constructed in the same way, for example by using the same interface, incorporating the same functions, offering the same special service, etc. The same applies to online encyclopedias and social networking sites.

Likewise, the techniques of mixing pieces of music and transforming the fragments into a new whole, will not be protected by copyright. The result itself of the mixing, on the other hand, will be protected. Making an identical sound mix then constitutes an infringement of copyright.

The subject of a novel is not protected either. The theme of Romeo and Juliet - the emergence of a relationship between two people from hostile families - is not protected. So anyone could take this idea and incorporate it into another story, a song, a painting or a comic strip. However, it would be an infringement of copyright to copy the plot of the novel, the sequence of events, the profiles of the characters, or to literally copy passages of the book.

The elements imposed by functional requirements

These are the elements in a work that were not chosen by its author, because from a functional point of view it was impossible to create these elements in any other way.

The design of a mobile phone may be protected by copyright, but not all of its elements will be protected. For example, the fact that the loudspeaker is located in the upper part of the model and the microphone in the lower part is inherent to the to the physiology of the human face. Anyone who designs a telephone therefore has no choice here. Another model where the loudspeaker and microphone are implanted in the same way is not counterfeit.

Last update
23 March 2022