Can You Copyright A Single Word?

from the hopefully-not dept

Glyn Moody points us to an interesting copyright ruling in Poland, where a company tried to claim that it could not just trademark a made up word, Jogi (referring to yogurt), but also that it could copyright the word. Apparently there was some confusion about the ruling, because the Polish Supreme Court (before issuing the full ruling) suggested that you could copyright a single word -- but the full decision indicated that this would only be possible in truly exceptional situations:
The Supreme Court stated that although newly coined words or names could theoretically be protected by copyright, this was only exceptionally possible, i.e. when a word in question possessed an extraordinary degree of originality. Quite forcefully the court observed that the belief every subjectively new creation of the human mind was a copyright work had no legal foundation and could even lead to the deprecation on the notion of "creativity". Although the decision explicitly confirms that works created solely for utilitarian purposes (including industrial products) may be protected by copyright (but this has not been seriously questioned for a long time now), it also takes the view that the purpose of a work can not in itself be sufficient to ensure copyright protection. In other words, the Supreme Court rejects the idea that the element of creativity can be discerned in the particular way the work is used. Consequently, in the case at hand the fact that the plaintiff "created" the connection between the word (trademark) and a certain category of goods is not enough the word as such must be autonomously individual and should be capable of being used on various fields of exploitation. The Court correctly observed that the plaintiff essentially wanted to protect the idea of using a certain word in a certain context, whereas ideas are outside the scope of copyright protection.
While this ruling appears to have gotten it right, the attempt to copyright a single word (over which a trademark was already held) shows the constant efforts by those with government granted monopoly privileges to try to expand those rights. It's an unfortunate symptom of copyright maximalists continually pushing the myth of copyright as "property," that people naturally seek to expand their "property" rights well beyond what the law is designed to allow.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2011 @ 10:40pm

    Flarglesnout!

    TM

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2011 @ 11:34pm

    So the obvious question would be how does 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' rate?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 12:42am

    Why would you ever want to copyright a word?

    "Google" has connected a companies name to internet searches in a permanent way. "Muggle" has enshrined Harry Potter into the English language. "Kleenex" is used as widely as "tissue", even when it's not accurate.

    Then again, it's not like shortsightedness is uncommon when it comes to IP law...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    FUDbuster (profile), Apr 13th, 2011 @ 1:20am

    37 C.F.R. 202.1

    202.1 Material not subject to copyright.

    The following are examples of works not subject to copyright and applications for registration of such works cannot be entertained:

    (a) Words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans . . . .

    http://www.copyright.gov/title37/202/37cfr202-1.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Richard (profile), Apr 13th, 2011 @ 1:42am

    Re:

    A couple of notes

    1) The case was in Poland not the US but no doubt US IP maximalists will soon be calling for the US to "harmonize" with Poland.

    2) Since when has the letter of the law stopped a rightsholder from bringing a case when they thought that they were "entitled" to something.

    3) Since when has the letter of the law stopped a judge from ruling the way he/she "felt" was right.

    I sincerely hope that the letter of the law you quoted remains and is observed - but then again the letter of the law used to say that copyright only lasted 14 years and required registration.

     

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  6.  
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    Billy Wenge-Murphy, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 1:45am

    Re: Flarglesnout!

    This whole matter makes me go snicker-snack, and gyre and gimble in my wabe.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Billy Wenge-Murphy, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 1:49am

    Re:

    In two of those three examples, those concern trademark, and the companies HAVE fought to prevent genericization because it can eliminate their legal claim to the mark (also Xerox)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    abc gum, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 4:55am

    Re: Re:

    What he said ...

    Also, I find it interesting how some waffle between implicit and explicit depending upon their specific needs at that time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 6:09am

    If you can copyright a song made up of individual notes, why not a word made up from individual letters. You decide in what order the letters are arranged and how the word sounds when spoken, just like a composer decides in what order the note of a song will go.

    I don't really think it should be, just putting it out here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Ken, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 8:17am

    Only a copyright troll would want a brand name copyrighted

    Why would a company that I assumes wants to market their company want to copyright a brand name making it illegal essentially to utter or write down a companies brand name. This could only be useful to a copyright troll. No company would want their brand name from being written down by anyone without the permission from the company. Then again don't give Disney any ideas. You could soon be sued for simply writing the name Mickey Mouse.

     

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  11.  
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    Ken, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 8:19am

    Copyrighting single words

    I think I will copyright the word 'and'. Anyone using will hear from my lawyer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 13th, 2011 @ 9:50am

    Re:

    And could you explain how 37 CFR 202.1 applies in Poland?

    Thanks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    FUDbuster (profile), Apr 13th, 2011 @ 10:03am

    Re: Re:

    And could you explain how 37 CFR 202.1 applies in Poland?

    Thanks.


    I didn't say it did. Don't be silly.

    You know, you wrote an article called: "Can You Copyright A Single Word?" I guess I was wrong to think you'd appreciate my input as to what the law is in the country you live in. My bad. Clearly you are not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 11:01am

    Re:

    Except that CFR regulations don't trump case law, and courts have gone the other way in some limited cases.

    This article is helpful on the matter: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/commentary_and_analysis/2003_09_stim.html

    Also, there are cases going both ways as to whether product codes can be protected by copyright.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 11:03am

    Re: Re:

    CFR regulations aren't really "the letter of the law." They are an agency's best attempts at giving their view of the law.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Unanimous Cow Herd, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 11:07am

    Re:

    CatastrophiTragiclysmic Infringapatentrollstuff.
    Copyright 2011 unanimous Cow Herd
    Please copy and distribute this freely.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    FUDbuster (profile), Apr 13th, 2011 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re:

    You are of course correct. I read some caselaw as well as the relevant section in Nimmer on the subject this morning. The consensus is that what's stated in the CFR is the general rule, but there are some exceptions in the caselaw.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2011 @ 12:42pm

    Re:

    is Jogi a "word" though? If they invented it and gave it meaning, then it must have had no meaning beforehand.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Apr 13th, 2011 @ 4:48pm

    I don't think that allowing someone to copyright a single word is inherently more absurd than copyright law. The court was quite clear that it would allow such a think to happen only in exceptional circumstances. If copyright makes any sense at all, the bar needs to be a certain level of creativity of the content that would need to be encouraged, not the volume of the content. I think the court took the right approach of saying something along the lines of: "This piece of 1-word content was clearly not creative enough to warrant copyright. We seriously doubt that someone is going to come up with 1-word content that will be creative enough. But if someone does manage to pack enough creativity into a single word, well, that's what copyright was meant to encourage."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Ohmagain, Oct 20th, 2011 @ 12:31pm

    Copywritting words

    So still no clearer, is it possible?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    BORO1146, Jan 2nd, 2013 @ 10:27am

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on Apr 13th, 2011 @ 12:42am

    Because if you copyright "it" for example, how much do you think you could make

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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