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

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313.4(K) Mere Variations of Coloring


313.4(K) Mere Variations of Coloring


Color is one of the basic building blocks for pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works. The U.S. Copyright Office may register an original combination or arrangement of colors if it results in a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work that qualifies as an original work of authorship. See Copyright Registration for Colorized Versions of Black and White Motion Pictures, 52 Fed. Reg. 23,443, 23,445 (June 22, 1987).


The Office cannot register a claim to copyright in color in and of itself or a system for matching pairs and sets of colors. See 17 U.S.C. § 102 (B). Likewise, the Office cannot register mere variations in coloring, regardless of whether the variations are made by hand, by computer, or any other process. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (A). If the author merely added or changed a few colors that appear in a preexisting work of authorship or merely added, changed, or combined expected or familiar sets or pairs of colors, the Office may communicate with the applicant or may refuse to register the claim. Similarly, the Office may communicate or refuse registration for a compilation of colors if the colors merely enhance the visual display of a chart, table, graph, device, or other article.




• Creating a new version of a fabric design where the colors red and blue are substituted for the colors yellow and green.


• Producing three greeting cards containing the same visual and textual content where the only difference is that each card is printed in a different color.


• Making a few minor changes in a preexisting work of authorship, such as simple tone-overs or color overlays.


• Using color as a simple form of typographic ornamentation.


• Using color to enhance sonar imaging or x-rays, sonograms, echocardiograms, magnetic resonance imaging, or the like.


• Removing all the color from a preexisting work of authorship.


For additional information concerning color, see Chapter 900, Section 906.3.


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