Are license terms copyrightable?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Are license terms copyrightable?

If someone wrote a license for terms of use, and another person decided they

wanted to use those same terms in their profession, could the first party sue the

second for copyright infringement?

Asked on July 5, 2018 under Business Law, Connecticut


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

The license form can be copyrighted, but as a general matter, individual terms cannot be: that is because there are so many licenses and similar agreements already out there, that any individual term has almost certainly appeared before, and you cannot copyright what is not original to you. Also, you can only copyright a specific "expression" of something (the precise arrangement of words) not an idea, so in theory, if you came up with a wholly new term, you could copyright it, such as "In the event that the party of the first part shall elect to exercise its right to receive lunch meat instead of payments in cash," but could not copyright the idea of trading money for lunch meat--someone could just write the same idea in a different way. So the form as a whole--the way it is arranged; the way one term flows into another and the order of the terms, the exact wording use, etc.--can be be copyrighted, but not the individual terms or concepts incorported into the document.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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