Laws on Copyrighting Phrases

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According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright protection is not available for names, titles or short phrases. The copyright laws of the United States are contained in Title 17 of the United States Code. Protection is not available for catchwords, catchphrases, mottoes, slogans or short advertising phrases. Due to the limited amount of content contained in phrases, the Copyright Office holds that they cannot be protected because they do not meet the minimum amount of authorship requirement.

Copyright Requirements

Copyright protection extends to original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium. Copyright law states that ideas and concepts cannot be protected and, as such, there is a requirement that any work protected by copyright must contain a minimum amount of authorship. In order to overcome the minimum amount of authorship requirement, a work must contain some amount of creativity in the form of literary, musical, pictorial or graphic expression. Neither the U.S. Copyright Office nor U.S. copyright law enumerate as to how much material is required in order to meet the threshold for copyright eligibility.

Copyright Registration

Technically, any original work of authorship that meets all of the other requirements is protected as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium. This means that works do not need to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to be protected. However, registration provides many benefits, such as the ability to assign the copyright and the ability to sue for statutory damages, attorney's fees and court fees.


Although phrases cannot be protected through copyright law, they can be protected through trademark law as long as they serve to identify the origin of a particular good or service. Trademark law serves as a way of maintaining fair competition by limiting who can use particular names, titles or phrases in order to describe their goods or services. Examples of phrases that are protected by trademark law include, "Where's the beef?" and, "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." Federal trademark law is contained in the Lanham Act.

Trademark Registration

Trademark law provides that phrases can be protected as long as they are not already registered or in use, they are used to identify a particular good or service and they are not overly generic. Trademark law states that generic phrases cannot be used as the United States Patent and Trademark Office does not wish to provide a monopoly over phrases that are commonly used by the public.


About the Author

Louis Kroeck started writing professionally under the direction of Andrew Samtoy from the "Cleveland Sandwich Board" in 2006. Kroeck is an attorney out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania specializing in civil litigation, intellectual property law and entertainment law. He has a B.S from the Pennsylvania State University in information science technology and a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

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