Can colors be copyrighted?

I have been looking around at some stuff to inspire me to make some new features for pigmento and I have the oddest of questions.

Do colors hold copy rights?

like if you look at pantone color tones they are like … colors that are sold? what’s up with that? What are they even selling exactly that are theirs to hold rights over. Aren’t like colors free?

Imagine this if I made something with one of their colors would I have to pay them?
Imagine this if I made something with a list of their colors would I have to pay them?
what stops from people stealing their colors even?

I know this is kinda retarded to ask but at this day and age I might as well ask to have another point of view.

I don’t think you can copyright a color, but a grouping of colors can absolutely be copyrighted (because that’s what a painting is).

Pantone defined a color space that is their intellectual property for use in commercial application (printing, marketing, etc.) - they provide a standard around those colors that ensure they are true regardless of who is using them (i.e. a specific red will always look the same).

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Oh - but i just realized something - colors can be trademarked! In the US, the company UPS has a trademark on a specific color brown

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. The information below is to be used solely for educational and entertainment purposes only. This comes from my understanding of copyright courses that I have completed as part of a software development degree. Copyright laws will vary depending on jurisdiction.

Copyright is the right given to creators to make copies of works in which the medium of expression is of critical importance. Things that do not qualify for copyright include: things that are basic or commonly known, ideas (as in concepts that have not been made concrete), or titles and names.

From this definition, colour is not copyrightable. Colour is an aspect of the electro-magnetic spectrum, which means it cannot be expressed in other mediums. Furthermore, colour would fall under the spectrum of basic information. Therefore, colours do not qualify for copyright protection.

That being said: It can be trademarked, and things that produce colour can fall under patents. Pantone, for instance, likely has a patent on their markers and the formulations used to produce the tinting from markers. I’ve taken a look at pantones website, and they appear to sell markers as well as colour samples. They would hold a copyright over the design of these prints, but not the colour advertised.

And as Kynlo above mentioned, colours may be trademarked. However, you wouldn’t be violating trademark for simply using these colours. You would likely be violating trademark if you were to use these trademarked colour to misrepresent your brand as the trademark holder. But there’s nothing stopping you from using the colour in your painting.


I must say this is insightfull despite everything. I would never guess that it would be like that.

One corner case is that I made a “skin color generator”.
however it does not produce every lighting or some hues by default but it has a very wide “normal” range. however because of that I was toying with the idea of a skin color set that you could use to tweak it to a “good value”. one that came across was this…

pantones skin color collection

Are these skin tones Pantones property now too?
by what @knylo says it would be I would be unable to add these skin colors also.
the user would have to add the colors themselves instead of coming by default I imagine.

(From Google Translate)
My country does not have such a problem, because it is stupid. If the rgb value of several colors is increased by 1 point, can the law still be held accountable?

TL;DR: (from my understanding) yes, you can screenshot those colors and make a palette out of them or add a way to generate them from Pigment.O.

I think there is quite a misunderstanding here.

Pantene is a system of spot colors. Basically they provide you a book with swatches of colors and they can sell you inks that will recreate exactly that color on paper. In my understanding, what’s forbidden is making your own inks and saying that they represent Pantene colors. Or maybe generally have a workflow when you say you use Pantene colors with their copyrighted names without paying them for the book of color swatches or the inks?

There is however a project to make an open source system of spot colors. That way you can get both the book and the recipes of inks and make your own inks to look exactly like in the book. Afaik this system is based on CIELAB so unlike Pantene it will be possible to add it to Krita.

There are also some spectral data involved and all that, I don’t know exactly.

Further reading, if you wish:

Project to make open source spot colors:

More info on spot colors:

Krita and spot colors:

Maybe @wolthera could confirm it or check if I’m not wrong here if she come across this thread at some point.

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The short answer is no. Pantone’s colour palette can’t be copyrighted, and you have no restrictions in using their skin tone generator for your own work – providing you’re not trying to impersonate Pantone or their services.

Longer answer:

  • Colours cannot be copyrighted, as explained above. However, groupings of colour can since that could arguably be a creative work meant to express a message (and by the use of a visual medium, which satisfies the Medium of Communication clause). So, the question becomes “Does a colour palette make a colour grouping?” It would seem to me that the answer is no, because the important expression here is how the palette is being presented, not the palette itself. In this case, Pantone’s UI would be the protected subject, not the colours presented.
  • I would argue that palettes are ideas of colour use, not creative works involving colour. Stating that these colours are skin tones is an idea that is being asserted. However, it is up to a creative to put the idea to concrete application and thus gain copyright protection. Someone going after an artist for a piece using this palette would be the equivalent of going after your inventor friend because he invented a thing you had previously discussed as an idea of yours. From a copyright perspective, the only protected party is the person making a concrete work.
  • Also keep in mind that if the answer is in the affirmative (colour palettes = colour groupings, therefore copyright protection), it would be nigh-impossible to protect or enforce copyright. And as far as I know, failure to protect copyright has been used in IP cases to argue in favour of the defense. (Caveat emptor always, see disclaimer in my last post).
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However, colors can be registered as a brand trademark so did german ISP Telekom with their magenta or motorcycle company KTM with their orange. That doesn’t stop you from using it in artworks, just from having a logo with the same color.

Oh I see. So it is basically when making a logo using a certain color can lead to issues.

Considering collections of colors I am a bit hesitant to give priority to use them now. I will make some other stuff then. It is not like my generator does not work already with or without this collection. Later on I will see if I should really add them.