Difference between Copyright and Intellectual Property

By: | Updated: Mar-2, 2018

It’s quite possible for laymen to interchange copyright and intellectual property, two legal terms that are all about protecting someone’s original work. We don’t need to be lawyers to know which is which, do we?

Summary Table

CopyrightIntellectual property
Covers material expression of original worksCovers trademarks, patents, copyright, industrial design rights, trade dress, plant varieties rights, and even trade secrets
Original works may include songs, books, movies, thesis, or any original literary works.Original works may include inventions, discoveries, symbols, designs, and words



A copyright is a legal right awarded to the creator of an original work, giving the owner sole rights to the use and distribution of said creation, normally for a certain amount of time. It could be anything from a musical piece, literary work, software, movie or film, song, or book, just to mention a few. A copyright is one of six forms of intellectual property rights.

In the U.S., copyright law only covers works that are “fixed in a tangible form” and not the concept, ideas, and techniques behind it. The examples mentioned earlier are all material representations of the ideas and concepts that all went in to bringing forth the creation. However, in countries such as Australia and France, a creation is not required to be in tangible form to be covered by copyright law.

The primary goal of copyright law is to ensure that the creativity and all the time and effort an individual invested in their original work is protected – that they reap the rewards for coming up with the creation. A copyright owner is given exclusive rights that will allow the reproduction of their work including its commercial distribution. This includes the right to create other works based on the original. A copyright owner also holds the sole right to transfer ownership and perform or display the creation in public. The owner can also authorize others to wield the same rights to their creation as well.

Intellectual property, or IP, includes various ways of protecting creative expressions of the intellect that carry commercial and moral value. There are actually six types of IP: copyright, trademarks, trade dress, plant varieties rights, industrial design rights, and patents. In some countries, trade secrets can be covered by IP.

The goal of intellectual property law is to provide exclusive rights to the creator of an intellectual, original work. Awarding such rights to a creator promotes the creative process and encourages investors backing up research and development on new creations or enhancements to the original. This also ensures investors a return on their investment as well.

International property rights law can cover works of art (such as music and literary pieces), inventions, symbols, designs, phrases, and even discoveries.

Copyright vs Intellectual Property

So what’s the difference between copyright and intellectual property now?

Copyright law protects original creations of the mind set in a fixed, tangible form, or the material expression of the original work. This would encompass artistic works such as literary or musical pieces, films or movies, software, and books.

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind for which sole ownership is awarded to the creator. Intellectual property rights are the protections given to the IP’s inventor or creator. Intellectual property rights can be set on original artistic works, discoveries, phrases and words, symbols or designs. Trademarks, patents, copyright, industrial design rights, trade dress, plant varieties rights, and even trade secrets (depending on the jurisdiction) are the types of intellectual property rights.

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