Copyright in Your Business

Part II

O.K. - so my introduction to copyright was a little too simple for you? Let's get into a little more depth - but not too much.

One way of thinking of about this is that you can protect an expression. An expression is something that can be "expressed" in an artistic endeavor or just in words. It could be a performance, a 2 or 3-D rendering of something - it can be static or dynamic. Although it might protect an expression - it cannot protect the ideas expressed.

Think about that...

If you and I tell a story about a recent event we attended, we each could protect that story. Even if the stories are almost identical. And, as far as this type of protection is concerned, if someone else's story or painting comes out sounding or looking like yours, or nearly so, they are just as much entitled to protection on theirs as you are on yours. The key is independent creation. This version of intellectual property is something you can use to block others from copying you more or less identically.

If you have a patentable invention you can patent it but you cannot copyright the invention itself or the idea behind it, but you could do so with any brochures, advertising copy, operating manuals associated with it. Technically you actually own the rights to each of these "works" the instant the work is "fixed in a tangible form" and you own it--even if you don't provide notice or register it.

Even when you write a patent application you own the right to its tangible form on your patent application after you've finished writing it. But you give it up as part of the bargain to get a patent issued.

IMPORTANT - If you retain an independent individual, or ad agency, etc., to create materials be certain your contract or agreement (in writing) spells out that the materials created for you are "works for hire" and that they belong to you. Failure to make clear in writing that the work is being made for you "for hire" will leave the ownership of the expression legally in the hands of the creator of the work. Depending on what contribution you made to the work you may also have copyright rights in the work and therefore the right to authorize copies yourself but it is still best to have a written agreement with any contractors or outside help spelling out your ownership. If actual employment records show the creator is an employee of you and directly or indirectly acting under your direction to create the work then you don't need a written agreement that shows you own it because the law allows for that--but a written agreement won't hurt either.

Revised versions of your works should have the correct new year of publication in the notice, not (just) the year of the unrevised original version.

Register Your Copyright

To "perfect" your protection on a specific item you must register properly with the Library of Congress Office ( or specifically 

Here is the Library of Congress web site - useful. 

Each registration with the Library of Congress requires completion of a form, a check (~ $30 subject, of course, to change), and usually 1 (rare) or 2 (almost always for printed or published material) copies of the material being copyrighted. It may take you a while to dig out the information you need but it is all there at the Internet site. Also be aware that for the fullest protection you must send your registration paperwork, payment, and copies in within 3 months of your work's publication.

Your rights from this protection is recognized by over 190 countries including most that are likely to provide viable economic markets for you so you only have to register your copyright and pay the fee once for each item. For an individual this protection is good from the moment the work is in "tangible form" through 70 years after the death of the individual. For a "work made for hire" or with no identified human author either in the work or its registration, usually for a company, the copyright is good for the lesser of 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation.

Do Provide Notification

Failure to provide a notice with publication, especially if it can be shown that the failure was not accidental or that, even if it was accidental, no attempt was made to correct it, can completely invalidate your protection so be very careful. If your request is not filed with the Library of Congress the United States will refuse to become involved in any disputes arising out of your copyright claim. If it is filed with the Library of Congress the United States will "lend its support" to your case (but it won't make it for you or pay any expenses) and you may be eligible for treble damages should you prevail. Customs intervention may also be possible. If your publication is important, the $45 (or so) fee is well worth it.


Copyright - Part II
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Copyright - Part I
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Intellectual Property Law
What a business owner needs to know about intellectual property law.

Mike Ervin
Mike Ervin - Cost Effective Small Business Patent Protection.

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