Say a service is offered with pricing for 1 hour, 2 hours ... 12 hours. Assume there is some sort of custom calculation used to determine discounts after the first hour (e.g. if the first hour is $100, the second hour isn't necessarily $200 -- it would be less, and subsequent hours would be progressively less).

If a competitor copies the exact pricing structure -- could that possibly considered copyright infringement?

3 Answers 3


No. This is covered in the United States in section 102(b) of the copyright act, and similar doctrine applies in pretty much every other country too. It's usually referred to as the "idea-expression" dichotomy: ideas are not protected by copyright; only the way those ideas are expressed are protected. The pertinent statutory text reads:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

This doctrine goes all the way back to an 1879 Supreme Court case, Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (1879), where Charles Selden published a book describing an accounting system, with ledgers, and obtained a copyright; and then asserted that his copyright covered the actual system. He lost. Wikipedia has a fairly good write-up on the case.



The "pricing structure" here is essentially an algorithm. It can be patented but not copyrighted.

  • 14
    It probably can't be patented, either -- too much prior art.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 21:46

My initial thought is probably not, and (while I'm aware you'll be withholding specific details) the process outlined in the question doesn't sound particularly new.

Even if you were able to demonstrate you had applied a unique process that was unlike anything that anyone had used before - and which you could show your competitor had copied from you (rather than arriving at the same idea simultaneously or by copying from someone else) - it would be worth considering how much your business model was dependent on this particular process being unique.

In the case of a unique process with business implications for you (in other words quantifiable loss of business if offered by anyone else) there may be grounds to ask your competitor to "cease and desist", but pursuing damages may be more costly than any compensation awarded.

  • 1
    Food for thought. Thanks. Wondering only from the perspective of a DMCA take down. Any thoughts on that? Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 11:05
  • 1
    @LegalNewbie - It's a possible angle (with DMPA/WIPO as a "cease and desist"), but my interpretation is this would be dependent on showing ownership - for example a demonstrably copied algorithm rather than a reverse engineered process that came up with similar numbers. Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 11:18
  • Oops. Should be a "C", not a "P". Left it too long to edit. Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 11:26
  • Re business method patents: It's worth considering the implications of Alice v. CLS Bank before pursuing a patent (TL;DR of that case: You can't just take a hundred-year-old technique such as "hedging" or "incremental pricing," add "do it on a computer," and thereby patent it).
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 17:04
  • 2
    Downvoted because your reasoning is wrong. The question is about copyright, not patents, and novelty is not a requirement for copyright.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 21:47

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