A copyright can ensure that the works you create aren’t reproduced by someone who can drive dollars away from your business.
Terry Church, counsel at Morgan Miller Blair, a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based firm that advises technology-based businesses on intellectual property, says although your materials are copyrighted the moment they’re created—regardless of whether or not you publish them—the only way you can enforce a copyright is to register it through the U.S. Copyright Office. Registering a copyright through the federal government protects your work and gives you the authority to sue in the event of infringement.
Here’s what you need to know about copyrights:
When to Copyright
If a work is generating revenue for your business, you’ll want to protect it by registering the copyright. If you produce and sell music, your business is affected when someone burns a CD, since you won’t get paid royalties on it. “If copyrighting products does affect your income, then you should copyright it,” Church says.
In addition, if you have written information about a product or service that could be used by someone in your industry, it’s a good idea to copyright it. If you’re not sure whether or not to copyright it, ask yourself, “If someone copies this, how am I going to be affected?”
What to Copyright
You can copyright any expression that you create: books, online content, white papers, a letter, works of art, photographs, songs and software code. You can’t copyright names or symbols—such items require a trademark rather than a copyright.
Indicating a Copyright
Even if you decide not to register a copyright, you should always indicate that your work is copyrighted to dissuade people from reproducing it. Do so by printing the copyright symbol (the letter C with a circle around it), the year it was produced and your name on the work you produce. For additional protection, add the words ‘all rights reserved’ after your name. While copyright law doesn’t mandate that you print this content, “that gives notice to people that it’s yours,” Church says.
How to Register
To register a copyright, you’ll have to fill out a form and send it to the U.S. Copyright Office with a nonreturnable copy of the work you want registered. There’s a basic registration fee of $45 per application (or $35 if you file online). Other fees vary depending on the type of claim you want to register, so check the U.S. Copyright Office’s current fee schedule before applying. You’ll receive a certificate of registration within several months of sending in your application.
Infringements occur when someone copies or reproduces your work without authorization or creates a derivative work by using your work as a starting point. In some cases, you have what are called moral rights—an artist, for example, could demand that a work of art is taken down if it’s portrayed in a way in which he or she doesn’t approve.
In the event that someone infringes on a registered copyright, start by sending a cease and desist notice to that individual. This can be an email or a letter that asks the person to stop using your work, but Church says it’s more advantageous to send a hard copy of a letter so you have evidence they received it. You can write such a letter yourself, or hire an attorney to do it for you.
If the individual continues to infringe on your registered copyright, you can get an injunction (a court order that mandates that the person stop using it), sue for statutory damages (you don’t have to prove actual damage), get anywhere from $200 to many thousands of dollars per infringement and, if you win the case, you can get your attorney’s fees covered.