Many people think of copyright law as only being relevant to authors an performers. Those people would be wrong. You don’t have to be a singer, a writer, or a singer-song writer to have copyrightable assets. Every company and individual may be creating work that is eligible for copyright protection. As a startup company, understanding what can be protected under copyright protection is important to your business. It will help you prevent infringement of your work and avoid infringement of others’ works.
What Does Copyright Protect?
A copyright protects only original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. In other words, the work must be distinguishable from those that came before it and be sufficiently stable or permanent in form to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated. There are generally three requirements for a work to be original: (1) independent creation, (2) expressive contribution, and (3) modicum of creativity. In plain English, the work has to be independently created; the choices in making the work cannot be limited by functional purposes; and the work cannot be a copy from someone else.
Under federal law, original work can take many forms, including literature, music (including words), dramas (including music), pantomimes and choreography, pictures, graphics, sculptures, movies, audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architecture.
What Does Copyright Not Protect?
However, copyright law does not protect facts; it does not protect function; it does not protect something that has only one or very few ways of expression. This is because copyright is intended to protect the expressive arts. It does not protect ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries, regardless of how it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in an original work.
For example, consider your grandma’s recipes or the recipes of your “foodie” friend. If those recipes are merely lists of ingredients, they are not protected by copyright. This is because such recipes are functional – they describe procedures for making food. Now, if those recipes are in a book, that book as a whole is copyrightable because it is an expressive original work that is fixed to a tangible medium (a book).
How Might Copyright Be Relevant For Your Business?
The discussion above should demonstrate that you are probably creating quite a bit of information that is protected by copyright law in your business. Most business are creating graphics and also potentially creative written works (e.g., books, pamphlets, etc.). Beyond the obvious examples, one example is computer software. Computer software is highly functional but may involve some copyrightable expressions. That is one reason why you see tech companies in the news suing on patent infringement and copyright infringement of software.
As this discussion demonstrates, businesses need to have a general understanding of intellectual property law so that you can better assess the avenues you can take in protecting your company’s interests.
Copyright is not just for those in entertainment. Copyright law offers protection for a multitude of works that your company may be creating. In your intellectual property audit, make sure that you identify what types of works your company is creating, assess whether the works are copyrightable, and determine whether you want to seek copyright protection for them.