Monday, July 14, 2008

Can you copyright fireworks?

Dear Rich: I attended a fireworks show and the people running it said the show was copyrighted. Is that possible?  I'm so glad you asked. It's unlikely that a fireworks display will be protected by copyright. The big issue is fixation. Copyrighted works must be fixed in some medium -- that is, they must be "sufficiently permanent" so that they can be perceived for a period "of more than transitory duration." (Ice sculptures have a better shot at protection.)
In Australia, a fireworks company claimed that its choreographed display constituted a dramatic work. Nice try. The Australian court  (.pdf) acknowledged that some events within the show might constitute a visual arts work ... but the issue was moot since anyone could film or broadcast the public event under Australian fair use rules. In 2004, two Kentucky TV stations resolved their dispute over a fireworks broadcast (without a court battle), although one station manager was convinced that copyright did not protect scripted fireworks displays. 
Photosdrawings, and films of fireworks are protected by copyright, as are the computer programs that run the pyrotechnics. And of course, the label artwork can be protected under copyright and trademark law. In any case, we're more concerned with the environmental impact of fireworks than the intellectual property rights and to that end, I guess this is one of the few times that the Dear Rich staff (... wait, this is the real staff) is rooting for Disney to lead the way.