Writers—in particular bloggers—repeatedly ask me questions about copyright law. I’m no expert on the law, that’s for sure. I wrote a post on copyright in relation to blogging books; I spoke with a literary lawyer and a copyright attorney to gain the necessary information. Then I happened to meet Francine Ward, a copyright and trademark attorney with a focus on helping individuals, entrepreneurs, and small business owners protect their valuable creative content, brand, designs, logos, trade secrets, and company structure. Over the last two years, she has expanded her expertise to incorporate social media law. This includes counseling clients on “avoiding the legal landmines resulting from playing in the social media sandbox.” So I asked her to provide me with a guest blog post on how writers can protect themselves and their work on the Internet.
Copyright Protection and the Internet
By Francine Ward
Protect your assets! One of the most common mistakes authors and other content creators make is not thinking about asset protection. Everyone wants to learn how to create content, how to market their content, and how to sell their content, but few people take the time to learn how to protect their content—until it’s too late.
As a writer—whether you compose blogs, articles, books, magazines, or newsletters—you’ve likely been misled to believe that the Copyright Laws don’t apply on the Internet. I’ve heard many content creators say, “What’s the use in me creating really cool things, if someone can come along and steal it?” As an attorney who helps small business entrepreneurs and other creative people protect their valuable intellectual property, I’m here to say, “There is plenty you can do!”
Here are a few strategies to help you protect your work, make it harder for someone to steal from you, and, if they do, to make it easier for you to sue them.
- Read and understand every document BEFORE you sign it. Contracts come disguised in many ways. TIP: If your signature is required it’s probably some type of binding agreement; you can be held responsible for what you sign, even if you didn’t read it.
- Have agreements with everyone you do business with. This helps you clarify the terms of the relationship. While the general rule of law is that the person who creates the work (e.g., books, articles, blogs, videos) owns the copyright, sometimes an exception may apply without you knowing it, such as “Work Made for Hire.” A clearly defined, unambiguous contract helps you avoid surprises.
- Get “permission to use.” If you do sign a “Work Made for Hire” agreement, make sure you get permission to show the work you created in your marketing materials. If you don’t, your copying the work without permission may constitute copyright infringement.
- Put the copyright notice symbol—in the proper format—on all your work (e.g., Copyright 2010 Marion Doe). It sends the message that you claim ownership in your work. Plus, if you ever need to sue for copyright infringement, it strengthens your case.
- Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. A common myth floating around the creative community is that you can protect your copyrighted work by use of the so-called “poor man’s copyright.” That is bad advice for a content creator, because it suggests that you have copyright protection if you simply mail a copy of your work to yourself. Here’s why: Yes, you have a copyright the moment you reduce your original idea to a tangible form, but without registration—for starters—you cannot sue.
There is so much more you need to know, but our space here is limited. If you are interested in more valuable information on topics, such as copyrights, trademarks, social media legal issues, website law, corporations and LLCs, book contracts and other agreements, and patents, join me for my Legal Boot Camp Webinar Series. And don’t worry, if you miss a call, you won’t miss the content, because all calls are recorded. For more information on the Tuesday Webinar Series (www.legalbootcamps.com). For information about my legal services (www.fwardattorney.com).
About the Author
A 1989 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Francine Ward is an active member of the American Bar Association (ABA), the National Bar Association (NBA), the California State Bar Association, the LA Bar Association, and the San Francisco Bar Association. She is also a member of the Second Life Bar Association. A frequent speaker on legal issues, and a popular legal commentator, Francine Ward can be found on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/francineward), Facebook (www.Facebook.com/Francineward), her Blog (www.francinewardblog.com) , and in the virtual world’s Second Life (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Ginny/236.521240/171.452835/23.451164/?title=Ginny).