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.

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Comments on “Can You Copyright A Single Word?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

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…

Richard (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Ken says:

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.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

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.”

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