how to protect copyrights

Copyright Basics for online Entrepreneurs:

In Copyrights 101, Online Business Necessities by Shannon Montgomery

Intellectual property is often a company or brands largest asset. Although, if you ask most business owners—big or small— to value their intellectual property they’ll throw out something like 15-20% of their valuations. In reality, many of the world’s largest companies valuations are 90% based on their intellectual property.

Most online businesses and entrepreneurs fail to realize that a large portion of their businesses value depends on intellectual property. Copyrights are only one portion of the intellectual property puzzle, but because they are likely the simplest to understand and the most often created, this post is dedicated to the basics of copyrights.

Lets get started.

The US Copyright office defines a copyright as:

“A form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for “original works of authorship”, including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. “Copyright” literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work.”

Do you have a recipe e-book that is your companies largest selling product? Awesome! Did you register your copyright on that work? I hope so. For a great basic overview and to gain a better understanding of the above definition check out this page from Columbia University.

Registration with the US Copyright Office:

Technically, you do not need to register your work with the US Copyright office to gain protection. The minute the work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” you gain the protection of the common law, i.e no one can take that work, and use it as their own.  However, having a registered copyright provides the following benefits:

  • It puts the public on notice of your copyright claim
  • You must have a registered copyright or be in the process of registering it to file an infringement suit for any US based work.
    • Side note: that registration must be timely- made before the infringement or within three months of the infringement
  • Your registration shows the court the validity of the copyright
  • A timely registration allows you to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees should you have to sue for infringement. Otherwise, you may only see actual damages.

Costs of Registration:

Unlike patents and trademarks, registration of copyrights can be relatively affordable.  Depending on the type of work, the price can range from $35-$55 if you register on your own without the help of an attorney or other registration service. And to be honest, I do think this is something you can do on your own if you do the proper research. You can register at www.copyright.gov. It is a fairly simple process, and the website is generally helpful.

What if you haven’t registered yet?

If you haven’t registered there are a few things you need to be doing when selling or displaying your work online.

One: Always use a copyright notice with your work. You can use the c in a circle or, if you’re protecting something like a blog post, you can use terms such as all rights reserved, or no copying without permission. This puts people on notice that you own the item, and you intend to enforce your rights in it.

Two: Include a strong terms of use for any downloadable document especially if you are an e-course provider that includes downloadable materials for your students. The terms of service will tell the person what they can and cannot do with that item, and will put them on notice that they are not allowed to distribute those documents, pictures, charts etc. to another person or entity.

Three: Monitor your work. I realize this can seem daunting. However, people like to assume that the internet is a free for all. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are hotbeds for stolen intellectual property. If you create an infographic for nutrition that goes viral, keep an eye out for that exact infographic being utilized by others.

What to do when you find infringement:

There are a few things you can do prior to filing a lawsuit if you do find something of has been stolen. Many websites allow you to file what is known as a DMCA takedown notice. This notice is found on most social media websites, even google provides an area for this. You file the notice with the site that is hosting the infringed material letting them know that you own the copyright and you did not give the infringer permission to use that work. A short investigation will take place, and if  you provide the proper proof or you have the registration, the website will generally make the person take down the infringing material. You are also well within you rights to send a cease and desist letter or a demand letter to the infringer asking them to take down or stop using your work. There is an art to this, but generally if you go about it the proper way, the person will listen and stop using your work.

Wrapping it all up:

I did not get into any specifics in this post such as what makes something copyrightable, how to differentiate between a “modicum of creativity” and none, when your work is published vs not., and how to handle demanding someone to stop using your work. There is more depth to this subject than this post needs. The main points I want you to takeaway are:

  • If you are a content creator in the online space, your intellectual property likely makes up a large portion of your companies value
  • Your copyrights are protected under common law, however you are afforded more rights if you register within the required time periods
  • Use the copyright notice, and a strong terms of use (check this) to put the general public on notice that you are asserting your rights in that work
  • Don’t be afraid to file a DMCA takedown notice or send a cease and desist letter when you find someone infringing on your work

I hope this clears up some of the questions you have regarding copyrights. For more information check back regularly for new and more informative intellectual property posts. Sign up for the email list to get notified monthly of new posts. And of course if you’re in need of an attorney to help with your copyright issues reach out through the contact form on our website, or find us on Instagram at MontgomeryLawPllc.

Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic.