“They should pay GEJ copyright for his ideas!”

The above statement was made by the former Special Assistant on New Media to the immediate past president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It’s one statement that most IP practitioners have heard and certainly brings about varied reactions on their part – cringe on the inside; subject the speaker to a lecture; smile, shake their heads, walk away and maybe question their understanding of the idea-expression dichotomy.

The Lady recalls the chat she had prior to getting her first job. Her soon to be boss asked about her thoughts on the idea-expression dichotomy and mumble away did the Lady. To put things in perspective, the Lady was an undergraduate at the time and the boss – an accomplished author and copyright lecturer. She got the job alright, but most importantly, she learnt about the thin line between ideas and expression as far as copyright is concerned.

For the record, ideas are NOT protected by copyright. It is the expression of those ideas that are protected by copyright. And no, you cannot patent ideas either. Below is a simple flowchart that explains the idea-expression dichotomy and how ideas can be transformed in order to enjoy IP protection.


It is not uncommon for someone to express an idea at a meeting and for another to say ‘oh, I was just thinking the same’. The distinction often lies in how the ideas are expressed or the manner of execution. It would therefore be unfair and inimical to creativity if the first to register an idea was granted a monopoly to the exclusion of others. Hence, GEJ cannot be said to have copyright in his ideas, much more receive payment for it.

PS: Facts are also not protected by copyright

*Creative works encompass literary, dramatic and musical works as well as cinematograph films, sound recordings and broadcasts.

**Inventions may either be a product (e.g. a drug) or a process (e.g. how the drug is made).


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