Legal Lingo Part II: The Low Down on Copyrights
What is a Copyright?
Last month I briefly discussed what intellectual property encompassed. Here’s a clue, if you are reading this then you probably are sitting on some intellectual real estate. So listen up; this will affect your money making either now or down the road. Many of us create products; some of us offer services. All of us create designs and or content. Therefore, we ALL need to be aware and educated on copyright law. This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of copyright law, however I will be offering manageable snippets that are easily digested for the Southern C community. So let’s start at the beginning. A very good place to start. What is protected by copyright law?
The U.S. Copyright Act is Federal legislation enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the writings of authors. As technology and creations have changed through the years, this has led to an ever expanding understanding and interpretation of the word “writings.” The Copyright Act now includes architectural design, software, graphic arts, motion pictures, and sound recordings. As of January 1, 1978, all works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression and within the subject matter of copyright were deemed to fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Copyright Act regardless of whether the work was created before or after that date and whether published or unpublished. So think about if you create designs that go on products, write articles, write blogs, take photographs, paint, sculpt, create music, create movies, write books or any variation of these. Then you own some intellectual property. If you have done any of these repeatedly, then you could own lots of intellectual property. Now, that you know that you may be the proud owner of one or more copyrights, it’s time to consider what you can do with this stuff.
Ownership Has Its Benefits and Responsibilities
The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, license, and to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work. So you, yes, you are the owner, so you control how, when and where and to what extent your works are distributed. The minute your work is created, you have rights of ownership in the creative work. The predominant limitation to your exclusive rights to your copyrights is a doctrine called fair use. However, we will save that discussion for another day.
With ownership comes responsibility. If you created a work, then ultimately, it is YOUR responsibility to protect it. Now I am not talking about with round the clock armed guards or with some elaborate alarm system. The way you protect your copyright is through registration, policing and proper maintenance. Of course, there are folks out there that are experts that can help you in this process. Cue the attorneys. I know, that’s not what y’all wanted to hear, but it’s true. To properly take care of the loads of creative value that you are sitting on within your business, you must consult regularly with an attorney that can advise you on how to protect your creative works. As I like to tell my clients, “if it’s worth creating, then it’s worth protecting.”
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