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How Copyright Impacts Specific Industries

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A copyright protects a form of creative expression, such as text, photographs, videos, and paintings. While most people associate copyright with artistic works, a copyright can also protect any original work of authorship, including software, electronic code, and architectural designs. Nearly any form of original authorship or creative expression can be protected by copyright. It is important to note that a copyright does not protect an idea, but rather the expression of an idea. Business owners also cannot copyright their slogans, logos, or company names, these are protected using of a trademark.

Like other forms of intellectual property, copyright extends a number of legal protections over your work. By simply creating your work, you are automatically entitled to ownership of that work (unless you’re hired to create the work for another party, such as your client or employer). You can also register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, which allows you to enforce your copyright in court if someone else uses or copies your work without permission.

Which Businesses Need Copyright Protection?

Historically, copyright protections were meant to benefit musicians, writers, and other artists. Today, a much wider range of people and businesses can benefit from protecting their copyrights. As noted above, just about any form of original authorship automatically grants the creator copyright ownership. These days, more and more business owners are creating original works of authorship as part of operating their company. Think about the works you may have created while running your business. Did you write the copy on your website or blog? Did you take photographs that you feature on your website or on social media? Have you designed a course, instruction manual, or product literature for your customers’ use? If so, you can own your copyright for those works and claim certain legal protections. Even emails, as expressions of your thoughts and ideas, can be copyrighted.

More and more businesses are creating content as part of their core operations. Sole proprietors and small businesses, in particular, rely on creating content when they post on their own websites and social media pages to reach their customers. With each original work that a business owner makes, he or she can claim a copyright. When you create a work, you automatically own the copyright; no formal registration is required to claim ownership.

Beyond the common law copyright protections, there are benefits to formally registering a copyright with the U.S. Office of Copyright. Registering a copyright gives you the legal right to sue someone for infringement. Generally speaking, when another person or company uses your creative expression without your permission, they have infringed on your work. By registering your copyright, you preserve your right to sue them under federal law and potentially gain financial compensation for their misuse. There are some significant exceptions to this infringement principle, such as using copyrighted materials for limited educational purposes. If you think someone has infringed on your copyright, contact The Brand Protected® and talk to an experienced intellectual property attorney who can help.

Copyright and Graphic Design

Generally, if you create something, you own the copyright. So, if you are a graphic designer and create a website or other work for a client, you would own the copyright, right? Actually, you probably wouldn’t in this scenario! In fact, there is a specific exception for copyright ownership when someone creates a work made for hire. When someone creates a work made for hire, they do not own the copyright. Rather, the person or company who hired them to create the work owns the copyright.

When is an authored work considered to be “made for hire?” According to Section 101 of the U.S. Copyright Act, a “work made for hire” is any “work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment” or “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as”:

  • A contribution to a collective work
  • A part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • A translation
  • A supplementary work
  • A compilation
  • An instructional text
  • A test
  • Answer material for a test
  • An atlas

Additionally, if someone creates a work for another person or company and the parties expressly agree in writing that it’s a work made for hire, then the exception applies and the hiring party owns the copyright.

Graphic designers, in particular, should be aware of the “work made for hire” exception to copyright ownership affects their businesses. If your graphic design work is for a client as part of “a contribution to a collective work,” such as a website, your client will own the copyright. This means that you have to be careful to not infringe on that copyright in your future work. If you’re not comfortable with a client owning the copyright to the work you created, you can enter into a copyright transfer agreement. This kind of written agreement transfer the copyright ownership from your client to you. At The Brand Protected®, we can help you create a transfer agreement that is legally enforceable.

Protecting Your Copyright When Self-Publishing

With the popularity of self-publishing websites like Amazon, Lulu, and Scribd, authors no longer have to undergo the traditional, arduous process of finding a publisher to buy their book. Instead, self-publishing your book gives you total control of the content, marketing, and every other part of the process. When you self-publish, you also have total control of your copyright. Traditionally, copyrighted materials had to be in physical form. However, as more and more people create digital works online, copyright law has evolved to protect electronic expressions. This means that whether you publish a physical book or an e-book, you still have the same copyright under law. A lot of self-published authors publish their works under a pen name for a number of reasons, including as part of their marketing strategy. Rest assured that you still own your copyright even if you publish under a pseudonym, so long as you can prove that you did, in fact, create the work yourself.

You may want to consider formally registering your copyright in order to protect yourself from infringement, given the ease in which people can unlawfully re-distribute copyrighted e-books. If you register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, it’s advisable to do so under your real name to avoid confusion. Utilizing a digital rights management software can also help you protect your copyrighted material by preventing unauthorized copying or distribution of your work.

Owning and enforcing your copyright can be quite beneficial for your business. Making sure that intellectual property works for you, rather than being misused by a competitor, is important. So, if you’re not sure whether you own your copyright, or how you can protect your business’s copyrighted material, call The Brand Protected® today. We can give you practical advice on protecting your intellectual property and can help you enforce your legal rights if necessary.

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