You know the saying – content is king (though I prefer queen!). Whether it’s on your blog or the multitude of available social media platforms, in today’s world, creating, sharing and promoting content are a big part of running a business. Regardless of if you’re creating your own original work or utilizing another’s to get your message out, copyright law is at play. So it’s imperative to have a basic understanding of copyrights. Here are answers to some of your common questions about copyrights:
WHAT IS A COPYRIGHT?
A copyright is a form of protection for published or unpublished “original works of authorship.” Literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, graphic and audiovisual works are just some of the types of work that can be protected by copyright laws. In contrast, names, titles, slogans, or symbols are not protected by copyrights, rather they may be protected by trademark laws. Also, copyright laws do not protect inventions – those are covered by patent laws.
HOW DO I PROTECT MY ORIGINAL WORK?
Your work is afforded copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed to a tangible form. So the moment you paint that watercolor landscape of the South of France or the moment you write your book, your work is protected. To be afforded the rights under copyright law, you are not required to publish the work, include a copyright notice, or register the work with the U.S.
INCLUSION OF A COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Although the use of a copyright notice is no longer required, it is beneficial and easy enough to include one. A copyright notice informs others that the work is protected under copyright law and indicates the copyright owner and the year of first publication, thereby preventing someone (i.e. an infringer) from claiming that they didn’t know the work was copyrighted. Proper notice includes the copyright symbol (“©”), the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the owner of copyrighted work. For example, © 2015 Jane Doe.
REGISTRATION WITH THE COPYRIGHT OFFICE
Registration is also not required, but recommended for a number of reasons. First, it creates a public record of your copyright. In the event there is ever a dispute about who owns the copyright, the registration can support your case. Second, U.S. copyrights must be registered before filing a case in court. If you register your copyright within five years of publication, the fact of registration establishes a presumption that the copyright is valid. And finally, if registration is made within three months after publication and prior to an infringement, you may be eligible for additional damages (statutory damages and attorneys’ fees).
Fortunately, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is rather simple and can be done online or with a paper application. You need to complete an application form, pay a filing fee, and submit a nonreturnable copy of the work being registered with the Copyright Office. You can learn more at http://www.copyright.gov.
I SAW SOMEONE USING MY ORIGINAL COPYRIGHTED WORK WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
The answer to this question largely depends on what you hope to accomplish. As a practical matter, if you find that someone is using your copyrighted work without your permission, you or your attorney can contact that individual (i.e. the infringer) to advise them that you are the copyright holder of the work and they are infringing on your copyright. Unfortunately, especially in today’s world where information is shared so freely on the Internet, some people are unaware that they may be infringing on someone’s copyright and that they need to obtain permission before utilizing the work. You can demand that the infringer stop using your work, attribute the work to you or compensate you in exchange for permission to use your work.
Also, if you find your work is being used online without your permission, you can file what’s called a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take down notice with the online service provider requesting that they remove the infringing materials published on their site.
As the owner of a copyright, you are also entitled to sue in court and ask the court to stop the infringer from utilizing your work, pay you monetary damages and/or attorney fees. In order to sue in court for copyright infringement, your copyright must be registered with the Copyright Office.
If this happens to you, you may want to consult with an attorney to evaluate your options.
WHAT IF I USE SOMEONE ELSE’S CONTENT, A PHOTO FOR EXAMPLE, BUT CREDIT THEM WITH A LINK TO THE SOURCE. IS THAT ENOUGH?
It’s a common misconception that linking to the source is enough to protect you from claims of copyright infringement. Giving credit and getting permission are two different things. Linking to the source is not enough because 1) the source you’re linking to may not be the one who owns the copyright and 2) linking does not mean that they have given you permission to use the photo.
HOW CAN I ENSURE I’M NOT INFRINGING ON SOMEONE ELSE’S COPYRIGHT WHEN I CREATE CONTENT?
Create your own original work. The best way to ensure that you are not infringing on someone else’s copyright is to create your own original content.
Ask for permission before using someone else’s work: If you know who the copyright owner is, a simple solution may be to just ask for permission from the copyright owner. Some owners may want to be compensated in exchange for using their work, whereas some may forego compensation, so long as the work is properly attributed to them.
Use works in the public domain. Work that is not protected under copyright law falls within the public domain, meaning that anyone can use the work without obtaining permission from the author or their heirs.
Search the Creative Commons website: Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that encourages the sharing and use of works through easy-to-use copyright licenses. The site enables copyright owners to give the public permission to share their creative work under certain specified conditions.
Pay for Licenses: If you really want to use a specific copyrighted work, you may just have to pay for the license to do so. There are plenty of websites where you can purchase rather affordable licenses to utilize another’s copyrighted content, like stock photographs, for example.