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

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808.11 (D) Unclear Authorship Terms

808.11 (D) Unclear Authorship Terms

Generally, items used in set design, scenery, props, and costumes, are regarded as useful articles. The copyright law does not protect the design or styling of useful articles. If a useful article incorporates any separable and original artwork, such as graphics, pictures, or sculpture, only the artwork may be protected. See 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works”); see also Chapter 900, Section 924. In such cases, the authorship should be specifically described, such as “artwork on scenery” or “soft sculpture” (in the case of a puppet or animal costume).

These types of works often raise special issues that generally are handled by the Visual Arts Division. Therefore, if the applicant combines this type of authorship with a motion picture claim, the registration specialist may ask the applicant to prepare separate applications for the motion picture and the visual arts work. For more information, see Chapter 900, Section 924.

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