When starting an online business, one of your top priorities is ensuring that your ideas and creations are protected. Having someone else steal and profit off your ideas is frustrating at best and devastating at worst. It’s vital that entrepreneurs understand how to protect themselves by making use of legal tools like trademarks and copyrights.
You can read more about trademarks in my post here. But today, we’re going to focus on copyrights and what you need to know to take advantage of this powerful tool. Here are the top five things every entrepreneur should know about copyrights. Hopefully, these will help you get started – or serve as a refresher if you need to brush up on copyright law.
1. Content is Automatically Copyrighted Upon Creation
In the United States, content is protected by copyright law as soon as it is created. At the moment of creation, the rights to the content belong exclusively to the “author.” One instance where this is slightly different is in the case of an employee creating content for their job – in that case, the employer is the “author,” since they are paying the employee to create the content.
If you are working with others to create something – like in a group project or in most work settings – then everyone who participated in that creation is a co-owner of the rights. It’s wise in these instances to draw up a contract ahead of time spelling who will be the owner of the copyright.
For solo projects, the copyright term is your (the author) lifetime, plus 50 years. In co-ownership situations, it’s a lifetime protection plus 50 years after the last owner’s death. If copies of the content are made available to the public, the copyright term is 100 years from the date of creation or 75 from the date of publication, whichever is shorter. (For more information on the duration of copyrights, look at this document from the United States Copyright Office.)
2. Registering Your Copyright Isn’t Required, But it’s Helpful
Because your content is automatically protected, registering it with the United States Copyright Office isn’t required – but it is recommended. If you ever found yourself in a situation where someone had plagiarized your work, having it registered with the U.S. Copyright Office would be helpful. You’ll need that evidence and proof of authorship in order to bring a successful lawsuit against any infringers. Read more here.
3. You Don’t Have to Use the Copyright Symbol – But You Should
United States law no longer requires that you provide a copyright notice – that little symbol, © – but it can still be beneficial to include it. Why? Well, if you do include a copyright notice, it’s another layer of protection should you ever bring suit against an infringer. If there is a public copyright notice attached to your content, the judge will give no credence to a defendant’s claim that the infringement was unintentional or that they did not know the content was under copyright. It’s not difficult to include and it may save you a headache in the long run.
4. Copyrighting Only Applies to Certain Types of Content
You cannot copyright an idea. In order to obtain or claim copyright on something, it must be:
– In a protected category
The categories of copyright protection are:
– Literary works
– Musical works
– Dramatic works
– Pantomimes and choreographic works
– Pictorial, sculptural and graphic works
– Audiovisual works, including motion pictures
– Architectural works
– Sound recordings
This is a pretty all-encompassing list, but it does rule out your ability to copyright facts or ideas – only the way that you as an individual express them.
5. The Process for Copyrighting Your Work is Simple
If you want the added protection of registering for a copyright, then the process is straightforward. But also know – the ratio of registered works to total works created in the world is very small. Most companies don’t bother going through the process for copyright except for their most valuable and important content.
Visit the U.S. Copyright Office website and follow the registration process for the category of your work. You will need to submit a completed application form as well as a copy or copies of your work – these copies will not be returned to you, so be sure you don’t send your original or only copy. The fees for copyright registration vary, but if it is a simple registration of a work by the sole author, the fee for an online registration is $35.
Hopefully this has given you a starting point for understanding copyright law in the United States and how it applies to you. Overall, the important thing to know is that you can rest easy – the moment you create your work, it is covered by copyright law. However, there are additional steps you can take, such as a copyright notice and registering your work, that will ensure you are fully protected in the case of infringement.