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How To Copyright A Phrase

How To Copyright A Phrase

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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 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 has a motto or “catchphrase” 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 “catchphrase” is unique to a fictional or non-fictional 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.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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