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Go Fly a Kite.

The winds of March may entice us outside to fly a kite and think of the most famous person to have flown one: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). Statesman, patriot, printer and inventor, Franklin not only signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he also flew a kite.

Franklin's experiment with the kite Children and kite.

He had an idea that lightning was electricity in the sky. He also had an idea on how to test his idea. He used a kite during a storm to carry a metal key aloft to the lightning to perform his experiment and proved that when a charge approaches another object that conducts electricity, the charge is transferred. Franklin used this experiment to make his point that buildings need to be protected from lightning with lightning rods. The experiments and successes of other inventors are featured on the Web site. For example, the events that led to the invention of the telephone are in Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers; Thomas Edison's inventions relating to sound and video recording are documented in Inventing Entertainment. A site on Origins of American Animation provides films of the pioneers in this form of entertainment, and the Samuel F.B. Morse Papers includes an image of the original paper tape containing the first telegraphic message.

Can a person copyright an idea even if the idea is original?

No. Copyright protects original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works that are fixed in a tangible means of expression. Copyright does not protect an idea, even if it is unique.

When a scientist or inventor today has an idea, it cannot be copyrighted. But if the idea is expressed in writings or drawings, for example, the writings or drawings may be eligible for copyright protection. Still, the idea behind the writing or drawing cannot be copyrighted. Others may use the idea. You may write or draw your idea and claim copyright in your expression, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.

Likewise, a patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea. A patent is granted for inventions in the form of new machines, manufactured articles or composition of matter or any new and useful improvement to such inventions.

Want to learn more? Go to the U.S. Copyright Office Web site. See:
- Circular 34, "Copyright Protection Not Available for Names, Titles, or Short Phrases" (PDF)

- Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright

For information on patents go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office home page.

A. [Franklin's experiment with the kite]. Charles E. Mills, artist. Created between 1900 and 1920. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction No.: LC-D419-175 DLC (b&w glass neg.) Call No.: LC-D419-175.

B. Children & kite. Photo by Harry M. Rhoads. Created between 1900 and 1920?. Reproduction information: The repository for this image is the Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library, 10 W. 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, CO 80204.

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