Understanding Copyrights

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When the topic of copyrights comes up, there are a lot of questions!

Are a copyright and a trademark the same thing?

Can I copyright an idea?

How can I monetize my copyrighted content?

In this episode, I’ll simplify copyrights using another food analogy and a Harry Potter reference. If you create content (think: written work, visual designs, photographs, digital designs, and more) this episode is for you!

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WHAT YOU’LL LEARN IN THIS EPISODE
  • What a copyright truly is (with a red, juicy example).
  • The key categories of works that can be copyrighted (and what can’t).
  • How understanding the Copyright Pie (food analogy!) can help you monetize your copyrighted work.

REMEMBER…
HERE’S THE TRANSCRIPT OF THIS EPISODE

[Intro Music] I love you, but I’m not your lawyer. This is for your educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of this content without first consulting a lawyer.

Annette

When I often talk with business owners, they often get these two terms mixed up: copyrights and trademarks. They’re often incorrectly used interchangeably, but they really are two separate areas of law. 

So in this video, I want to break down copyrights for you. I want to explain to you why they’re important, what you need to understand about them and I’m going to introduce you to my copyright pie. You know me. I love a good food analogy when it comes to the law and you’re going to get it with this copyright pie. So let’s dive in and talk about copyrights. 

So what is a copyright? A copyright is a form of protection afforded by the laws of the United States that gives owners of published or unpublished content certain rights over their work. What’s really important to understand about copyrights is that it can’t just be an idea that you have in your head. It has to actually be fixed to a tangible form. 

So for example, let’s say Kim has this idea of publishing a book all about how to get red carpet worthy lips. And she goes to her sister Kylie and she talks about this idea that she has. And let’s say Kylie actually turns around and publishes a book about red carpet worthy lips. Has there been copyright infringement here? Probably not. Because all Kim had was an idea. It was not something that she’d been working on. It’s not like she had the book already written or published. So in this case probably Kylie’s in the clear. So the key here is to understand that this idea that you have has to be fixed to a tangible form. 

It also must demonstrate some element of creativity. It can’t be facts or figures. It really has to be a unique expression. So for example, you can’t have a monopoly on painting the Eiffel Tower. Everybody can go and paint the Eiffel Tower. Every artist is going to have his or her own interpretation of it. But you can’t take another artist’s version and reproduce that as your own. 

Now there are certain categories of work that are eligible for copyright protection. Here you’ll see the different categories. Things like literary works, photographs, designs. Even architectural designs and sculptures. So long as it falls under one of these categories, it could be potentially eligible for copyright protection. 

Okay, so the copyright pie. So what you’re seeing in front of you right now is what I’ve just made up and called the copyright pie. Because it’s a visual representation of all the different rights that a copyright owner has to a certain work. And as you can see, you have quite a few slices. 

So first up you have the right to sell your work. Let’s say you’re an artist you painted this beautiful painting and you don’t really care to hold on to it. You don’t really want to retain any rights to it. So you might sell it to somebody and just transfer the copyright to them. 

As the copyright holder of work, you also have the right to make copies or authorize others to make copies. So for example, let’s say we take that same piece of artwork and maybe you want to print them out on posters and sell the posters. Or maybe you want to give a company the right to take that artwork and print them on mugs and t-shirts. So this is a component that really lends itself to licensing, which we’re going to talk about here in a minute. 

Next you might have the right to perform a work. So with the artwork it may not be the best example. But let’s say you’ve written a play. Or maybe you’ve written this song. As a copyright owner to that content, you can go ahead and perform the work. 

You can display the work. So going back to our artwork example, maybe you want it hanging in a gallery somewhere or on a billboard somewhere. 

And finally, you have the right to make derivative works of it. So these are works that emanate from the main work. So for example, the example I always love to give is the Harry Potter series written by JK Rowling. Now, the story itself is the main work. And she’s been able to take that novel or series of novels and then create so many works out of that and probably a lot of licensing deals. There are amusement parks, there are products, or movies. So that’s just a really great example of how powerful it can be in terms of monetizing a copyrighted piece of content. 

As I mentioned, this is the one piece – the authority to authorize others to make copies that lends itself to the concept of licensing. So with each of these different slices, you can go ahead and divide it up into smaller pieces. And here’s what I mean. For example the right to have others make copies of your work. Well, you can divide that by time period, by geographic area, category, medium of use,  language. And then you can make those rights exclusive or non-exclusive. So for example, let’s go back to our artwork. Let’s say you’ve designed or a painted  this beautiful painting. And now you want to have that artwork put on mugs. So you can go to a company and offer them a license for a certain period of time – maybe two years. Then certain geographic area maybe just within the United States. And give them the right to use your artwork on mugs. You can then make these rights exclusive or non-exclusive meaning that they can be the only ones to have this right or they can be one of many to have this right. 

So there you have it. That is my copyright pie. So I hope that’s helped clarify things for you in terms of understanding copyrights. 

[Outro Music]