Designers draw on their experience of design when approaching a new project. This includes the use of previous designs that they know work ― both designs that they have created themselves and those that others have created. Others’ creations often spark inspiration that also leads to new ideas and innovation. This is well known and understood. However, the expression of an idea is protected by copyright, and people who infringe on that copyright can be taken to court and prosecuted. Note that copyright covers the expression of an idea and not the idea itself. This means, for example, that while there are numerous smartphones all with similar functionality, this does not represent an infringement of copyright as the idea has been expressed in different ways and it is the expression that has been copyrighted. Copyright is free and is automatically invested in the author, for instance, the writer of a book or a programmer who develops a program, unless they sign the copyright over to someone else.

Given the next phrase (is automatically invested in the author ~ someone else), I think that it means that copyright can be given to anyone who develops invaluable things. is it right?

original text link

  • This isn't clear writing. My interpretation is that it means "copyright costs nothing ("is free") because the author gets it automatically ("[it] is automatically invested in the author"). They can then choose to give or sell it ("sign it over") to someone else -- anyone else. Like, if you write a book, you automatically own the copyright. You are then free to give or sell the copyright to anyone you choose.
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 2:55

2 Answers 2


“Free” is a word with many meanings. I believe I can interpret this correctly, but only because I know a little bit about copyright already. The author should have made it clearer which meaning they intended!

In this case, “free” means “without costing money”. When you create a work (e.g. draw a picture), the law says that you immediately hold the copyright on the work. You didn’t have to do anything, and you didn’t have to pay for it.

This is true for most of the world now. It wasn’t always the case. In the past, you may have had to register your copyright with the government first, and they would have charged you a fee. (In some places, you can still pay to register your copyright. You don’t have to, but there may be benefits.)

The rest of the sentence (“…and is automatically invested… unless they sign the copyright over”) is unrelated to being “free”. The sentence says three separate things about copyright:

  1. It is without monetary cost.
  2. It belongs to the creator.
  3. It can be given (“signed over”) to someone else.

The author’s use of “free” only applies to #1. (You could also talk about how the creator is “free” in point #3 to give someone their copyright, but this is a different meaning of “free”: “without restrictions”. You can certainly ask someone to pay you in return for giving them your copyright!)


Copyright is inherent in any original creative work, the most common domains are visual, musical, literary. A smart phone isn't subject to copyright, but many of the elements that make up a smartphone are inventions and methods that are protected by patent, and many off patent, and many unknown and are regarded as trade secrets. BY copyright is free the writer is not relinquishing copyright but announcing the copyrighted work can be reproduced free of charge.

Software routines are often patented if they introduce a specific functionality. This goes beyond copyright because a software routine can be written in a myriad of ways. The patent protects the functionality the routine allows.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .