Copyright Compendium

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313.4 (C) Words and Short Phrases

 

313.4 (C) Words and Short Phrases

 

Words and short phrases, such as names, titles, and slogans, are not copyrightable because they contain a de minimis amount of authorship. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (A). The U.S. Copyright Office cannot register individual words or brief combinations of words, even if the word or short phrase is novel or distinctive or lends itself to a play on words. See Kitchens of Sara Lee, Inc. v. Nifty Foods Corp., 266 F.2d 541, 544 (2d Cir. 1959) (concluding that the Office’s regulation barring the registration of short phrases is “a fair summary of the law”).

 

Examples:

 

• The name of an individual (including pseudonyms, pen names, or stage names).

 

• The name of a business or organization.

 

• The name of a band or performing group.

 

• The name of a product or service.

 

• A domain name or URL (e.g., www.copyright.gov).

 

• The title or subtitle of a work of authorship.

 

• The name of a character.

 

• Catchwords, catchphrases, mottoes, slogans, or other short expressions.

 

For the same reasons, short musical phrases consisting of only a few musical notes standing alone are not copyrightable and cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, even if the phrase is novel or distinctive. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (A).

 

Examples:

 

• Clock chimes.

 

• “Mi do re sol, sol re mi do.”

 

• A trademark consisting of three musical notes.

 

Similarly, individual numbers, letters, sounds, and short phrases consisting of such elements are not copyrightable, because they do not contain sufficient creative authorship. Id.

 

The Office maintains various databases, indexes, catalogs, and other records that contain titles of works that have been registered with the Office. These titles are part of the public record, but the titles themselves are not subject to copyright protection.