A Resource For Understanding Federal Copyright As It Applies to the Internet

Limitations on Copyrights

The Idea v. Expression Distinction

While copyright law may protect the tangible product of a mind's work, the idea or factual basis underlying this work can not be copyrighted. For example, "news" may not be copyrighted, only the particular way of expressing such information.

Pure factual compilations, such as phone books, often do not receive copyright protection. By analogy, a collection of bare hyperlinks directing World Wide Web users to related material might not be copyright material.

Finally, when there are significantly limited means of expressing an idea or fact, such as E=mc2, the expression may be used without infringing on a copyright holder's rights. [1]

More Limitations

Copyright protection extends for only a set time period. After a copyright expires, the author's ownership rights are transferred to the general public.
A "fair use" is a legally permissible use of a copyrighted work, even if the use would otherwise interfere with the author's rights.


1. See Works Unprotected by Copyright. Available at <<http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/unprotected.html>> Last accessed, December 1, 2002. See also, Bruce P. Keller, Internet and Online Law, in Fourth Annual Internet Law Institute, Vol. 1, 169, 179-180 § 6.02[3].


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