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Appunti di Diritto dell'informazione e della comunicazione con analisi dei seguenti argomenti: critically analyze the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law, the concept and its importance, the origins of the dicothomy, some cases: the level of abstraction.

Esame di Diritto dell'informazione e della comunicazione docente Prof. G. Vigevani



Donaldson v. Beckett,

This principle found one of its first application in where the court

affirmed that there is no property on published ideas, as such as there is no property on

ocean water once it has been left into the sea .


The concrete application of the rule. Reality or myth?

Theoretically, the idea/expression division seems to be sufficently determined (since

Fichte, who noticed that the use of a writer's own words- expressions- is different from the

use of his ideas ),but practically it can be difficult to distinguish unprotected ideas from


protected expressions of these ideas.

The question has got primary importance for the infringement of copyright. As ideas are

not substantial parts of a work, copying the idea is not infringement, while copying


expression is infringement 8

But is it true that all ideas are unprotected? And how does an idea turn into an


If some ideas are protected, is the idea/expression dichotomy still a dichotomy, or is it,

nowadays, a myth ? What does the distinction between ideas and expressions really



As Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone said ,"it all depends on what you mean by



Donaldson v. Beckett

6 (1774) 2 Cobbet’s Parliamentary History XVII 954: “... what property can a man have in

ideas? whilst he keeps them to himself they are his own, when he publishes them they are his no longer. If I

take water from the ocean it is mine, if I pour it back it is mine no longer.”

Beweis der Unrechtmäßigkeit des Büchernachdrucks, 1793.

7 Section 16(3) of the Copyright Act 1988 provides that, to infringe, an act must be done 'in relation to the


work as a whole or any substantial part of it'." Pace Law Review,

Jones, Richard H., “The Myth of the Idea/Expression Dichotomy In Copyright Law”,


Volume 10, Summer 1990, Number 3, pp. 551-607. 3

Newspaper Licensing Agency

Since the case, actually, it has been pointed out that also ideas

are protected if “their expression in the work has involved sufficient of the relevant

original skill and labour to attract copyright protection” . The expression test in UK is


based on the skill and labour which an idea can involve, as a fruit of mental creativity, and

it seems to correspond to the lockean concept of property considered as the natural right

of everyone to possess the fruits of his own job.

There are three groups of unprotected ideas.

The first group is composed by the simple thoughts which are not expressed in any

copyrightable form: this is the most basic significance of the idea/expression division.

Designers Guild v. Russell

The second group contains, according to Lord Hoffman,

Williams , all those ideas which are not connected “with the literary, dramatic, musical or


artistic nature of the work”: for instance, an inventive concept, in the absence of patent


protection, can be used by everyone (the letterbox draught-excluder discussed in

Ltd. v. D.R.G. (U.K.) Ltd..)

The third group, finally, is composed by all those ideas which are not sufficiently original

Keinrick & Co. v.

to form a substantial part of the work (e.g. the drawing of a hand,

Lawrence and Co. ). The substantiality requirement, that is a qualitative matter, is satisfied


if an idea is sufficiently original in the legal sense (skill and labour test) to be protected by


copyright. The line of is the level of abstraction: “ the more abstract and simple

the copied idea, the less likely it is to constitute a substantial part (...).Copyright law tends

foxes better than hedgehogs”.

to protect The interesting metaphore of the foxes and the

hedgehog derives from a famous imagine used by Isaiah Berlin to describe the two


L.B. (Plastics) Ltd v. Swish Products Ltd. [1979] R.P.C. 551.


10 Newspaper Licensing Agency Ltd v Marks & Spencer Plc [2001] UKHL 38.

11 Designers Guild Ltd v Russell Williams (Textiles) Ltd (t/a Washington DC) [2000] 1 W.L.R. 2416 (HL)

9. Kenrick & Co v Lawrence & Co (1890) L.R. 25 Q.B.D. 99 1890

13 The hedgehog and the fox, a substantial part of the law of copyright,

See Chacksfield, Mark, in European


Intellectual Property Review, 2001. 4




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Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in giurisprudenza
A.A.: 2008-2009

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher melody_gio di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Diritto dell'informazione e della comunicazione e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Milano Bicocca - Unimib o del prof Vigevani Giulio Enea.

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