5 Things That Aren’t Subject to Copyright Enforcement

Modern copyright enforcement can be extremely difficult. Each creative work, regardless of medium or complexity, has a copyright that’s held by its creator. However, there are many things one can’t copyright. Some things don’t qualify, and certain exemptions immediately put content into the public domain. Below are several things that can’t be copyrighted.

Names and Titles

US copyright protections do not extend to slogans, short phrases, names and titles. The reasoning behind the exemption is that copyright protections apply to creative works, not the methods by which they are identified. Furthermore, a short phrase seldom meets the creativity requirement for copyright consideration.


An idea can’t be copyrighted because it is not translated into a tangible medium. For works to be eligible for copyright protection, it must be saved on a hard drive, written down or otherwise fixed. However, even a fixed idea isn’t automatically safe; it’s the idea’s expression that’s protected.

Federal Government Works

Works created by the US government automatically enter the public domain, as federal entities are prevented from holding copyrights. This is why images from NASA can be freely shared and copied, and why statutes can freely be posted. Finally, it’s free speech related, as government entities shouldn’t use copyright to silence critics.

Works Without Facts or Authorship

Though photos that come with a calendar are likely protected, calendars themselves are not. Similarly, one cannot copyright lines on paper, or a telephone directory. Works must have some level of creativity to receive protection, and those that are just lists of facts aren’t protected. However, the expression of those facts can be copyrighted.


This may be surprising, but fashions can’t be copyrighted. Their designs aren’t covered under current codes, although architectural works are protected. The only way a fashion piece can be copyrighted is if they incorporate graphic, pictorial or sculptural features that can exist independently of the article’s utilitarian aspects.

The Bottom Line

Copyrights are everywhere. All videos, pictures, writings, audio files, sculptures and building designs are copyright-protected to some degree. However, there are certain places copyright can’t reach—and those are just as noteworthy as what is protected.