Just about every business owner—whether they know it or not—has created some form of intellectual property (IP) during the life of their company. IP is an extremely important part of your business. Indeed, valuation experts estimate that IP makes up 40% to 90% of the total value of some companies.
When it comes to IP protection, patents protect inventions and trademarks protect brand names, while copyrights protect a wide range of original creative output, including literary, musical, dramatic, and artistic works, among others.
For instance, if you’re the original creator, all elements of your website—written content, photos, graphics, audio, and video—are eligible for copyright protection. But if you’re not the original creator of these elements and don’t have the correct legal agreements in place, you may not own the work displayed on your company’s website. In an upcoming article, we’ll look into this topic more deeply, explaining how you can protect work created for you by someone else using work-for-hire clauses.
All of this makes copyrights among the most vital and valuable forms of IP. If you’re serious about enforcing your ownership (and you most definitely should be), you need to register your work through the U.S. Copyright Office.
That said, you do not have to formally register to own a copyright—the original authorship of the material is enough. In fact, any work created since 1978 is protected for the owner’s lifetime plus 70 additional years.
But if you’re using the work as part of your business, and you want to ensure you are able to protect your ownership, you absolutely should register your creations. This will provide you with much more leverage to enforce ownership, up to and including filing a lawsuit against an infringer.
And you’ll want to register promptly, as “timely registration,” or registering within three months of publication, makes it far more easy to prevent infringers from stealing you work.
With timely registration, there’s a legal presumption that your copyright is valid, and you can potentially recover up to $150,000, including legal fees, without having to prove actual monetary harm. But you don’t even have to sue an infringer to get them to stop—copyright registration also allows you to file for injunctions and restraining orders against violators to prevent further use.
The Copyright Symbol
A copyright notice, or the symbol ©, and is used to identify copyright ownership in tangible works. Although using the symbol used to be required for enforcement, the law changed in 1989, making its use optional.
To properly identify your copyright, you should use the © as well as list the original publication date and name of the owner.
An example of a properly listed copyright: © 2018 Jane Doe.
If you need any guidance regarding copyright use or help navigating any area of intellectual property law, you should contact us as your Creative Business Lawyer®. We have years of experience working with business owners just like you to help them properly protect—and profit from—all of their creative assets.