Copyrighting Unlawful Activities?

“Can you copyright something that is illegal? For example, creating a video that explains how to hack a computer?” -Matt B.

Generally speaking, copyright protects artistic and literary creations or expressions. An idea or method of doing something, whether it be unlawfully hacking a website or a recipe for chocolate cookies, is not eligible for copyright. However, the expression of an idea and how that idea is written down in a literary sense could potentially gain copyright protection. My opinion, and please note that I handle criminal cases but am certainly no expert on copyright, is that one cannot obtain a copyright on the literary expression of how to commit an unlawful act.

When I first got this question, I immediately thought of Robert Mapplethorpe’s rather risque photographs of nude children. Almost everyone considers those photos as art, and I’m certain they have copyright protection. But let’s take it a step further and image that the photographs showed sexually explicit conduct involving children. Well, that’s clearly unlawful child pornography. Because it is unlawful even to possess child porn, one clearly could not get copyright protection on such pictures.

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