Business Basics – Copyrights

Protecting your intellectual property is a vital part of protecting your business. Your intellectual property will essentially define your brand – the very element of your business that consumers associate with all of the goodwill you’ve built into your business. We’ve already talked about trademarks, but this week we decided to look at the other half of intellectual property protection; the copyright. So what exactly is a copyright? And what does registering a copyright even protect?

Copyright Symbol

Copyright Symbol

What is a copyright?

Copyright protection actually dates all the way back to the advent of the printing press. After its invention, it was much easier to copy and sell books. But the printing press also meant that rebellious literature could also be produced much more quickly. This, combined with the threat to the livelihood of the creators of the works being printed, meant the government began to license shops with the right to print copy – and thus the copyright was born. As the decades passed copyright protection became more about protecting the artist, and less about stifling rebellious text, and today we continue to use copyright protections to enforce the rights creators have to their work.

What should I copyright?

The United States only offers protection for certain types of creative works – literature, music, drama, pantomines/choreography, art (pictorial, graphic, and sculptural), motion pictures, sound recordings, and architecture can be protected with a copyright. So if, for example, write a jingle for your business, you’ll want to register a copyright so that you are the only one allowed to use that jingle, create derivative works from it, or transfer the rights to it to others. A logo, on the other hand, can only be trademarked, not copyrighted.

Occasionally our customers ask about a ‘poor man’s copyright,’ where the creator of a work sends a copy of it to themselves, and then uses the postmark to establish the date of copyright. Unfortunately, no court in the United States has ever recognized this tactic as valid, so the only way to ensure your property rights are protected is to officially register a copyright.

How do I file a copyright?

You technically have a copyright from the moment you create the work. However, if you want to bring someone to court for violating that copyright, you have to register. The United States actually has an office that is dedicated solely to the filing and protection of copyrights. Registration isn’t too difficult, though it can be time consuming. You should first try to search through the copyright database to see if you can find anything registered that you may infringe on – this is a bit hard since there isn’t an easy way to search through art and music, but give it a shot, just to make sure you aren’t wasting your money. If everything looks good, you just have to file an electronic application, pay a small fee, and send a copy of the work you want to register. If approved, the copyright will be protected for the rest of your life, plus 70 years after your death, before lapsing into public domain.

A lot of businesses forgo registering their copyrights under the assumption that they automatically have a right to use and profit from any works that they create. And they are right, to a point – the creator always has an automatic right to his or her creation. But in order to enforce that right, you have to register it with the federal government.

If you have any questions about copyrights or copyright protection, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or give us a call at 1(877) 692-6772 – we’re happy to answer any questions you might have, and can even help you register your own copyright!

About Deborah Sweeney

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best.

2 thoughts on “Business Basics – Copyrights

  1. Is information posted on a website or blog, even WITH the automatic “copyright” symbol at the bottom, therefore not actually copyrighted?

  2. Hi Daryl,
    Unfortunately, there’s no 100% method of fighting copyright infringement on blogs, though there are plenty of tips available to work with. You should include a copyright notice at the bottom of all of your blog posts and you have a copyright to anything you post on your site, automatically. You can also issue DMCA take down notices for infringing material. Online content isn’t technically ‘published’ when posted online, so you basically have to apply for a copyright before every post is released. You can find out a little more about protecting your content on WordPress here: http://en.support.wordpress.com/prevent-content-theft/ – hope this helps!