copyright symbol leaning against wall
There are a few ways to keep the unique aspects of your business protected, whether you're filing a formal copyright or enrolling in a protection service. — Getty Images/mrgao

Filing a copyright in the United States is a fairly simple process, but it’s misunderstood by many people. If your business creates products or software that need to be protected, here are three things you should know about filing a copyright in 2019.

A copyright is automatic but registration may be a good idea

Many people don’t realize that a copyright is automatic. A copyright protects any creative works that have been written down or recorded somehow. So if you create a website or write an article, those things automatically belong to you whether you register them or not.

However, there must be some sort of tangible proof that you created the material — so, especially if there is a lot of commercial value in your work, it makes sense to register a copyright. If you don’t, you’ll be very limited in your ability to take legal action against anyone who tries to steal or infringe on your work.

For instance, a country music restaurant was recently fined thousands of dollars for a music copyright infringement. The restaurant was playing music through a jukebox and music videos but neglected to pay the licensing fees. Thanks to copyright laws, more than a dozen music companies were able to file suit against the owner.

The internet makes it easy for anyone to steal photographs or written content and try to pass it off as their own. You can register for a formal copyright online with the U.S. Copyright Office.

[Read: How to File a Copyright]

Be sure to watch out for companies that claim to provide copyright registration.

There are alternatives to copyright registration

If you choose to not register a copyright, there are other alternatives that can prove useful and instrumental in helping you protect your work, including:

  • Creating a Myows (My Original Works) account. Myows offers alternative forms of copyright protection by allowing users to register their work and establish an initial date of creation.Once an account is created, the service will routinely search the internet, notify its users of any copyright infringements, and, in the case of an infringement, will assist with sending cease-and-desist or takedown notices.
  • YouTube content reviews. YouTube recently updated its copyright infringement policies, now allowing copyright owners to create a timestamp indicating where their content wrongfully appears in other videos. From there, YouTube will review the accuracy of the allegation.

Be sure to watch out for companies that claim to provide copyright registration. These companies often charge fees that are higher than what the U.S. Copyright Office charges, and these so-called “protections” only last for a limited amount of time — leading them to continually charge renewal fees.

There are exceptions to copyright laws

An important thing to know about copyrights is a method of defense called fair use. Fair Use allows a person to make copies of copyrighted work for commentary, criticism or parody. This exception is allowed because another person is referencing the work, not copying it.

A good example of this is someone rewriting the words of a popular song to make it funny. They don’t need the artist or record label’s permission because it’s a parody. However, they can’t reproduce the exact same song without the artist’s permission.

And it’s also important to understand that not everything can be copyrighted. A copyright only applies to work that is in a “tangible and fixed” form. So if you have an incredible business idea, your product, website and company branding can be copyrighted, but the actual idea cannot.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published July 22, 2019