Having extensive knowledge of copyright and intellectual property law has become an essential part of running a business. The many products you will use are protected by several different kinds of laws. Among these are examples like trade secret, patent, trademark, and copyright laws. Real property laws are pretty straightforward, while intellectual property laws have some unique twists. As a business, you will often use the works of others, so you have to make sure you’re doing it legally. Without clear knowledge of copyright law, a content creator could go after you with a legal case. The creative works of your company have to be protected as well, so you wouldn’t have to waste time on the other side of those legal troubles. Here are some of the basics when it comes to protecting your IP and acquiring rights to the work of others.
1. What does it protect?
Copyright protects creative expression that is in a tangible form. If the content you created has been written down or recorded, you can consider it copyrighted most of the time. There are countless things that copyright supports, including books, movies, photographs, songs, etc. Even blogs are included in this list. If you’re wondering how low the bar for creativity is, you needn’t worry. Anything more creative than a grocery list or phonebook will do. Still, there are limits to copyright protection.
Some things aren’t so easily copyrighted. You can’t protect abstract ideas. Copyright law doesn’t cover ideas and concepts, just things as they were written. Things like names, numbers and titles also aren’t covered. Making up the name of a character in your book doesn’t protect it, it’s up for grabs. Even if you are allowed to protect some part of your work, there is also a time limit involved. As great as it is, even copyright runs its course. After the copyright expires, it becomes part of the public domain. Content that is in the public domain becomes free to use by anyone.
2. How do you copyright your work?
Copyright protection is granted the moment your pen leaves the paper, so to speak. Once you’ve created your work, it’s automatically copyright protected. If you snapped that selfie, it’s yours for good. If a group of people work on the same project, it’s automatically shared between that same group, unless stated otherwise in an agreement.
Copyright offices grant you the ability to register your copyright but it isn’t necessary in order to receive copyright protection. Registration serves a different function. Benefits like statutory damages and payment for legal fees are included when registering. These exist in case you ever need to go to court to protect your copyright. Copyright disputes can cost quite a bit. A copyright symbol is great, but it’s not a necessity. You don’t have to put it next to your work. Though, it can be a great way to signal to others that they aren’t allowed to use it.
3. When should you register?
While it isn’t completely necessary, registering your copyright can come in handy if you are working on something with a lot of commercial value. If lots of people try taking your content, the legal fees can accumulate. It’s not exactly easy to find a lawyer that can help you protect your work on short notice. With registering your copyright, it becomes a breeze since one is provided to you.
Some lawyers might consider taking your case on contingency. This means that they will work pro-bono until you win, and then they will take a certain cut of the winnings. It’s a bit of a risk for the attorney, so willing ones are few and far between. You might be the type that makes content every single day and this could pose a problem when copyrighting. How do you decide what to register? A YouTube content creator won’t copyright every single video they have. Think practical.
4. Can you register it alone?
We’ve established that registering can be done, but you might be wondering how difficult it is to actually do it. There are legal experts available that can assist you, but it might not be necessary to hire help. In many cases, you can register your copyright on your own. Places like the Copyright Office even have online registration forms. It’s a much more convenient way to register a copyright. You don’t have to appear in person, and you mitigate some of the cost. Instead of filling in forms on paper, you are greeted with several screens that ask you some important questions regarding your content.
Some kinds of content might require some outside help. If, for example, you’re taking part in the creation of some music, the lines get a bit blurry. Sometimes there are dozens of people working on the same song. Everyone from the writers to the individuals playing instruments has to be credited. Not to mention the mixing and mastering that is done afterwards. For projects like these, it might be wise to set things straight with the assistance of a legal expert, as it can get quite complicated.
5. The duration of copyright
Copyright is a convenient way to protect your content from being stolen and used by others for profit. However, it doesn’t last indefinitely. The laws in place exist to protect the creator from losing potential profit. After the creator has passed, there is very little incentive for the law to cover his or her work. Still, content copyright lasts for about seventy years after the passing of the creator.
Copyright laws have been changed numerous times, and this affects content that was created in the past. If your work was created before 1978, different laws apply to it. You can expect that the copyright will run out sooner the older the content is.
6. Rights of a copyright owner
Other than giving you protection for your work, copyright also offers you several rights when it comes to content you created. Six exclusive rights are granted. For starters, you can make any number of copies of your work. You possess a derivative work right, which means you can prepare any new material or new adaptations of your work. You are allowed to publicly distribute your work as you please. If the copyrighted content is a play, you can perform it publicly. You can also display your work if it is a visual form of art. Last, but not least, your sound recordings can be played digitally, on the radio or the internet.
All of these rights can only be exercised by the copyright owner, and people he or she has licensed their work to. You must keep in mind that the creator of the content might not be the copyright holder in every case. Sometimes, film studios or record labels have exclusive rights to the content of their workers.
Savvy business owners recognize why it is important to take care of intellectual property. How you use it can make or break your business venture in the courtroom. As a rule of thumb, using tiny snippets of someone else’s work in a non-competitive way won’t necessarily lead to legal action. If you’re trying to benefit the public, there is some leeway. Taking works and using them for commercial gain is where things get tricky. If you aren’t familiar with copyright laws this can harm your business. It’s hard to keep all that knowledge in one place if you aren’t a legal expert, so try to brush up on it once in a while.
Author Bio: David Koller is a passionate blogger and copywriter for Media Gurus, mainly interested in SEO and Digital Marketing.