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.