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Can You Copyright a Fight Song or a School Motto?

The other day, I was having a conversation about copyright law, you see I am an online article author, and I produced a number of e-books, and before my stint as a writer, I was quite concerned with protecting our company operations manual from getting in the hands of competitors. I’ve been mildly successful at all of those things above, and therefore have quite a bit of both positive and negative experiences when it comes to copyright law.

Now then, during our conversation we got on the subject of copywriting quotes, mottos, poems, and even school fight songs which are often used at football, basketball, and other athletic competitions. Obviously, if you have a good fight song, let’s say you are a university or college, someone might hijack that, and use it in their high school in some little town somewhere in the United States. Now then, as a big university you probably don’t care if a high school uses it at their football game.

Nevertheless, it is your brand and your school fight song, and you do need to protect it. A very short quotation or school motto could be trademarked. However, it’s difficult to trademark something you haven’t used in interstate commerce. Nevertheless, if you are University and you travel to other states for athletic competitions that would suffice, therefore you could trademark it. If you do, you have more teeth legally if someone uses it without your permission.

Of course, if your school motto is several sentences long, and your fight song has several verses, then obviously a trademark is completely the wrong venue, and you will not be able to secure that from the USPTO. Therefore, can a copyright suffice? In other words, if you put a little “c” at the bottom which alerts everyone that you claim copyright, and they can’t use it without your permission, and of course you would grant them the permission ever – therefore it’s safe right?

Hardly, someone might still try to take it – they may even use it on their blog, or modify the words to make your school look bad. In that case they are violating your copyright in many regards, but you still have to defend that. They might claim that they added significant new value by changing the words and trashing your school fight song, therefore it’s okay? Well, legally they might have a good defense in that case under the “fair use” principle – however that doesn’t make you or your school very happy.

And if you think that won’t or can’t happen, think again, it happens all the time. The problem with trademarks, patents, copyrights, and other things of this nature is even if you claim the copyright, have a registered trademark, or have actually filed a patent for something, that’s where the fun starts, from then on out you still have to defend it. That costs money, it takes time, and the Internet is rampant with the hijacking of copyrighted material. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it. In the meantime good luck.


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