Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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313.4(J) Familiar Symbols and Designs

313.4(J) Familiar Symbols and Designs

Familiar symbols and designs are not copyrightable and cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, either in two-dimensional or three-dimensional form. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (A). Likewise, the Office cannot register a work consisting of a simple combination of a few familiar symbols or designs with minor linear or spatial variations, either in two-dimensional or three-dimensional form. Examples of familiar symbols and designs include, without limitation:

• Letters.

• Punctuation.

• Symbols typically found on a keyboard, such as asterisks, ampersands, and the like.

• Abbreviations.

• Musical notes and symbols.

• Numbers.

• Mathematical symbols.

• Currency symbols.

• Arrows and other directional or navigational symbols.

• Common representational symbols, such as a spade, club, heart, diamond, star, yin yang, fleur de lys, or the like.

• Common patterns, such as standard chevron, polka dot, checkerboard, or houndstooth designs.

• Well-known and commonly used symbols that contain a de minimis amount of expression or that are in the public domain, such as the peace symbol, gender symbols (♀ ♂), the symbols for “play, pause, stop, forward, back,” simple emoticons such as the typical smiley face (‚ò∫), or the like.

• Standard industry designs, such as the caduceus, the barber pole, food labeling symbols, hazard warning symbols, or the like.

• Familiar religious symbols such as crosses, stars, crescents, and the like.

• Common architecture moldings, such as the volute used to decorate Ionic and Corinthian columns.

While familiar symbols and designs cannot be registered by themselves, a work of authorship that incorporates one or more of these elements into a larger design may be registered if the work as a whole contains a sufficient amount of creative expression.

For additional information concerning familiar symbols and designs, see Chapter 900, Section 906.2.

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