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Intellectual Property Insights from Fishman Stewart
Mini Article – Volume 23, Issue 12

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Copyright and Fireworks

By Kristyn Webb

According to the US Copyright Office, a fireworks display is not eligible for copyright protection, but a photograph of a fireworks display may be protected. Under US copyright law, to receive protection, a work must be “fixed” which means that a work must be expressed or embodied in a material medium that lasts for more than a transitory period. 

This means that a song you compose in your head and sing aloud would not be subject to copyright protection unless you write it down or record your performance and thus “fix” it. Ironically, if someone else recorded your performance—without your consent—and thus “fixed” it, that person may be liable to you for copyright infringement. However, this only applies in cases of musical performances. This is not the case with fireworks, where an unauthorized photograph would “fix” an otherwise “unfixed” fireworks display and give the person lighting the fuse a claim of copyright infringement against the person clicking the shutter button.   

In France, however, copyright law does protect a fireworks display. In a court case from 1992, the French Supreme Court (the Cour de Cassation) held that a fireworks display with lighting effects from projectors was protected by copyright law, and the unauthorized sale of postcards showing a photograph of the fireworks display infringed the show designer’s copyright. 

So, if you are a globetrotting fireworks tourist, check your local laws before taking any unauthorized photos or videos! And for insight into fireworks technology and patents, check out this Fish Tank article by Paul Ratzmann! 

Kristyn Webb is the Group Leader of Fishman Stewart’s Copyright Practice Group, and is currently earning a Master’s Degree in Copyright Law at King’s College London.

Published June 30, 2023

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