Copyrighting your intellectual property (IP) is a critical step in protecting your software code, website designs, literary works, and other valuable assets.
Copyright is a recognised intellectual property (IP) right in the United States that protects original works of authorship such as literary, theatrical, musical, and other creative works. Copyright protects not just creative works such as books, paintings, films, and music, but also business-related works such as software code, architectural blueprints, website designs, training manuals, and marketing reports.
Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or ways of accomplishing things, but it does protect how such things are conveyed in text, music, or graphically.
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Trademark vs. Copyright vs. Patent vs. License
Copyright is not the same as trademarks, patents, or licences. Each offers a unique sort of intellectual property rights protection. Trademarks are words, phrases, logos, and designs that distinguish the source (for example, the manufacturer) of an item or service from goods and services supplied by other sources. Patents safeguard both innovations and their designs. Licenses are contracts that transfer intellectual property rights from the owner of the rights (the Licensor) to a third party that wishes to use them (the Licensee).
What is the significance of copyright?
Copyright law grants the creator (the “author”) the exclusive legal right to reproduce (for example, print or copy), publish, perform, show, film, or record the original material, as well as permit others to do the same. It also grants the inventor the right to make “derived works” based on the original work. Certain the author, for example, has the right to update, alter, or compress the work, or to sell only parts of it. Copyrights are valid for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. If the owner is a corporation rather than an individual, the period is 95 years from the day the work was first made public.
You may use a business copyright to:
Prevent others (infringers) from duplicating it and competing with you.
It may be used to earn cash by selling copyrighted items and services directly or by licencing the copyright to others in return for royalties.
Create joint ventures and alliances with other businesses to mix your intellectual property with the IP of your strategic partners.
Copyright in the United States protects works in the United States as well as the nearly 170 countries that have signed the Berne Convention.
Steps to get a copyright for your work
1. Begin by creating your work.
In most countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, copyright legal rights begin as soon as you produce something in a physical form that someone can see, hear, or touch – either directly or via a machine (such as a computer). You should keep a record or documentation of the date you developed your work in case your claim to the rights is challenged.
2. Obtain written agreements from your independent contractors.
If your workers assisted in the creation of the work as part of their job responsibilities, copyright law states that any rights they may have as a “author” are immediately transferred to the corporation as “work created for hire.” However, it is still a good idea to have your workers sign an agreement certifying that your business owns all intellectual property rights to the work they do on the job.
When it comes to copyright, the law regards independent contractors (such as consultants) differently. When non-employee independent contractors create creative work for your firm, the contractor automatically maintains the IP rights to that work unless there is a formal agreement stating that the work is “work done for hire” and your company retains the rights (i.e., copyright). Make sure to include work-for-hire terms in all of your service agreements and engagement letters with contractors and consultants that generate software, websites, prototypes, advertising, reports, or manuals for your organisation.
3. Add a copyright notice to your work.
A copyright notice for your company’s work is important even if it is not required by law. It notifies the world that you believe the work to be protected by copyright, and it prohibits future infringers from effectively claiming in court that the copying of your work was an unintentional error. Copyright notices should be put prominently on the work and should contain the following three elements:
The sign “,” the phrase “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”
The year the work was published for the first time.
The name of the author.
It is optional to include phrases like “All rights reserved.”
4. Publish your work
Despite the fact that it is not required by law, registering your company’s substantial intellectual assets with the United States Copyright Office is nearly always a smart idea. Registration necessitates the submission of a completed application form, payment of a nonrefundable filing fee, a nonrefundable deposit, and a copy or copies of the work to be registered with the Copyright Office. There are requirements for deleting sensitive information from the copy to be deposited when registering software code that includes trade secrets or other proprietary information. Copyright registration may be completed through mail or online using the Copyright Office’s eCO system.
Copyright registration provides your organisation with various advantages:
It maintains a public record of your copyright claim.
It enables you to file a claim for infringement in court (unregistered copyrights of U.S. works cannot be enforced in court).
If you register your work within five years of its publication, a court will infer the copyright is valid and the representations you make in the registration are truthful.
If registration occurs within three months of publication or before your work has been infringed, you can seek automatic damages for infringement, as provided for in the United States Copyright Act (in other words, you don’t need to prove damages), as well as payment of your attorneys’ fees by the infringers, in any court claim.
Copyright for the Common Man
“Poor man’s copyright” refers to the practise of producing a duplicate of your work, sealing it in an envelope, and sending it to oneself in the false idea that doing so protects the work in the same manner that registering with the US Copyright Office does. This is absolutely not the case. Copyright registration provides additional protections that can only be obtained through the U.S. Copyright Office process.
Are there certain works that you are not permitted to copyright?
Yes. Certain materials are seen to be so widely used that they should be open to everyone and hence not prohibited by copyright, such as:
Work titles (songs, movies, plays, novels, and so on), names, slogans, and brief sentences
Symbols or designs that are common.
Typeface, lettering, and colour variations
Ingredients or content lists
Common property information with no original authorship (for example, calendars, height/weight charts, tape measures/rulers, and lists or tables obtained from public papers).