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Copyrights and Trademarks for Business Owners

Copyrights and Trademarks for Business Owners

Copyright is a relevant part of our lives and yet, despite its impact on our lives, people have insufficient knowledge of what copyright is. Following are questions I am often asked by clients developing their website, looking for photos/artwork to use on their materials, or those interested in protecting their business logo.

How can copyright help my business?
If your business creates original works, copyright protection could be an important part of ensuring its success.

There are several benefits of copyright protection on intellectual property. Copyright is a type of intellectual property and like other property rights it can be sold or licensed. It can also be transferred and inherited. This could actually be a source of constant income for you. If your business owns the copyright in a piece of work - be it an advertising jingle, a technical manual, song lyric or a magazine article - you can control how it's used commercially.

For example, you could charge every time someone uses your artwork, plays your jingle on the radio, transfers your manual to the internet, makes copies of your song lyrics or reprints your magazine article.

How do you establish copyright ownership?
Copyright an automatic legal right. Today, copyright protection is secured automatically when a work is created. A work is considered “created” when it is put down on copy or record for the first time. This means that your online content is given copyright protection as soon as you write it. It doesn’t even have to be posted for the world to see, it just has to be in a fixed form (i.e. not memorized in your mind).You can’t apply or register for copyright protection, however, copyright protection can be bought, sold or transferred.

In publishing your website design and content to the Internet, you are exposing your copyrights to the World Wide Web. Once you copyright your website you will have credible third-party substantiation that your work was yours even before you posted it. Should someone steal it, you can file for copyright infringement.

Can I take a photo (or article snippet) from off another website and use it?
Thieving content such as article, blog, photo or music without giving credit to the original author/owner or without written permission is not only unethical, it is also illegal. Don’t put yourself and your site in danger of lawsuits and other problems. As site owners, you have enough issues maintaining and managing your site and converting visitors into customers. Don't publish someone else's content just because you don’t see a copyright notice. Make sure everything on your site is original or appropriately accredited.

Is website content protected in the US or under International Copyright laws?
There is, unfortunately, no such thing as an international copyright that protects your work around the world. Copyright protection depends on the national laws of each particular country. Most countries offer protection to foreign works under various international copyright treaties and conventions, but keep in mind that worldwide protection is not guaranteed.

Why put a copyright notice then?
The primary reason to include a copyright notice is that it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Displaying a copyright notice may also help you if your work is infringed and you file a copyright infringement suit. If a property copyright notice appears on the material that was stolen, the court will not give any consideration to any attempted defence based on innocent infringement.

How can I find out if my work has been/or is being stolen?
There are many tools to check for copies of your website content on the net. If you come across a site which duplicates your content, you can first contact the person that posted the infromation and ask them to remove it. If they refuse, you can file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement with Google, Yahoo and MSN, as well as having their site removed by their host. You could even file a legal suit. Tools are also available to prove that your content was posted prior to theirs using tools such as WayBackMachine and WhoIs.

What is trademark? What purpose does trademark serve?
A trademark is a symbol, phrase, word, or logo that can identify and distinguish you from any other person or company.

Should I trademark my business name?
If you want to protect your company's name, slogan and logo from being stolen and used by someone else you can get that protection when you trademark a name. If you choose not to trademark a name you risk people misusing your brand name/selling fraud products by copying your name/logo which could land you in a lot of trouble, not to mention the risk of losing everything you’ve worked so hard for.

To protect your trademark rights throughout the entire United States, you must register and trademark a name at the federal level. And, if you do it all by yourself, there's a lengthy process you will have to go through.

Several online companies do everything for you from the beginning through the end. They review your information, do a trademark search, and submit everything for registration to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).