How To Copyright A Phrase

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

You can't copyright a phrase, can you? You can copyright words that are brand names. And here is how to copyright a phrase.

"You Can't Copyright the Obvious Phrase"

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Section 102 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. Code) defines a copyright as an "original or artistic literary work." A trademark is a "word or phrase." So actually, you trademark a phrase.

Ideas, concepts and recipes cannot be copyrighted. No individual or company can copyright an obvious phrase like "I walk." But if you think carefully about your favorite soda, restaurant or electronic company, each probably have a motto or "catch phrase" associated with them. If the phrase is "clearly created by the owner for the purposes of commerce," then it can be copyrighted.

"Examples of Copyrighted Phrases"

A "catch phrase" is unique to a fictional or nonfictional character. It is a symbol distinguishing a brand. This literary, musical or graphical expression might identify a certain level of product or service quality.

The goal of a copyrighted phrase is to create clear value for commerce. By being copyrighted, consumers can ensure they are receiving the actual value they were promised. It creates reliable commerce.

The best way to qualify for a copyrighted phrase is to demonstrate that through a musical, graphical or speech, the owner has "invented the phrase." It must be closely tied to the brand. This can be done by including the logo or brand name in the phrase.

"Steps to Protect Copyrighted Phrase"

Find a way to time stamp your creation. Some have included an affidavit in an envelope and postmarked it to themselves. This creates a historical record in time. Next, use it for interstate commerce; this will make it recognizable and enforceable by federal law.

Here are some examples of copyrighted phrases:

+ "Let's get ready to rumble!"
+ "Just do it!"
+ "I'm lovin' it!"

"Register Your Copyright Phrase with the USPTO"

Finally, register your copyright phrase with the USPTO. This creates a public record of your claim to ownership. The phrase becomes your property giving you exclusive legal rights for the purposes of commerce. It gives you leverage and the right and authority to file copyright infringement against others. The burden of proof is on them to prove the copyright does not belong to you. You can file an injunction against further use.

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