Copyright protection is one of the most misunderstood areas of intellectual property law. Many businesses and individuals are unclear as to exactly what type of material is subject to copyright, how to obtain a copyright, and under what circumstances copyrighted material may be used by others.
Whether you are seeking to protect your own intellectual property or considering acquiring or making use of intellectual property that originated with another person or organization, talking to an experienced intellectual property attorney will help you avoid pitfalls, understand what type of protection is appropriate and ensure that you follow the requisite steps.
What is Protected by Copyright?
Copyright protects original works of authorship. Although “authorship” may bring writing to mind, other types of work are also subject to copyright protection, including artwork, photographs, music, and even software. The work must also be committed to a “fixed format” in order to be copyrightable. Thus, for example, a speech that is written down in advance, recorded or otherwise preserved carries copyright protection, but an impromptu speech that is delivered verbally and not committed to paper or recording does not.
It also bears mentioning that some items people typically believe to be subject to copyright protection are not. Some of the most common include:
- Company names
Note that some of the items listed above may be subject to another type of intellectual property protection, such as trademark. Others, such as ideas, are not protected.
Infringement of Your Copyrights
The type of business you are running will determine what type of copyright issues you face and how important copyrights are to the operation of your business. In some industries, the importance of copyrights are obvious: publishing, film production, music distribution, and other creative-based industries generally depend on copyrighted material. However, in the modern business world, virtually every business is impacted by copyrights to some degree.
For example, if your organization is not one in the business of selling or licensing copyrighted material, you may still have copyrights to protect in one or more of the following forms:
- Website content
- Marketing emails
- Dedicated software
- White papers
Of course, the above is only a partial list for illustration purposes. Any writing, video, audio recording, image, or other created work may be subject to copyright protection, and those rights may be valuable to your organization.
Protecting Your Copyrights
Copyright registration is not required, nor is including a copyright notice on your content. However, including a copyright notice is simple, easy, free, and can be beneficial in that it puts the public on notice that the material is not available for use without permission.
Copyright registration provides even greater protection, in that the law provides for attorney fees and statutory damages in infringement cases involving registered copyrights. An experienced intellectual property attorney can advise you as to whether it would be beneficial and cost-effective for your company to register its copyrighted materials and how to complete that process.
Avoiding Copyright Infringement
When organizations consider copyright issues, the focus is often on protecting their own rights. However, it is equally important to avoid infringing the copyrights of others and the liability that could follow.
Common Copyright Mistakes
Many individuals and organizations make serious missteps regarding copyrighted material because they mistakenly believe such myths as:
- If I find it in Google images, it is not copyrighted
- If it does not have a copyright notice on it, I am free to use it
- Copyright restrictions only apply if I am making money from the use
- Using copyrighted material is fine as long as I provide attribution
There is also quite a bit of confusion surrounding the Fair Use Doctrine. For example, many people mistakenly believe that any education-related use is protected, although the analysis is actually much more complex. If your organization relies on outside content for your products, your website, your promotional materials or in any other context, it is important that you formulate a policy that provides clear direction to your employees regarding copyrighted materials.
Reliable Guidance on Copyright Issues
If you need help with copyrights, from determining how best to protect your rights to pursuing a copyright infringement claim to creating a policy that will help your organization avoid liability for copyright infringement, a KPPB attorney can help. Being proactive about protecting your copyrights can save your company significant time and money, while ensuring that you and those you have authorized derive the benefits of your copyrights. Contact KPPB LAW for more information.