Understanding What Can and Can’t Be Copyrighted
Every small business owner faces competition to try to attract new customers while still retaining older ones. Standing out amongst your competitors is always a challenge; copyright protection for your business’s creative works is one way to accomplish this.
In general, copyright protection in the U.S. is available for any work that is (1) original, (2) creative, and (3) fixed in some kind of tangible form. That sounds broad, right? It is! Here are some of the types of work product your business may be able to protect through copyright:
- Printed Work
Any printed brochures, instruction manuals, pamphlets, posters, catalogs, or other advertising material can be copyright protected. Any other original script that is used for promotion or to advertise your business can be copyrighted as well. Protection is stronger if the text on those materials uses creative phrases versus simply listing product features and characteristics.
- Sound and Music Recordings
Original musical compositions, such as advertising jingles, and other audio recordings can be copyright protected too. An employee doesn’t need to write the music or audio; your business can own copyright in audio recordings that are created by others specifically for your business. On the flip side, be careful about using music or audio recordings that aren’t created for your company—someone else almost certainly owns copyright in those clips and you should absolutely get permission before using them for your own business.
- Homepages, Websites,and FTP Sites
If your business has a website or FTP site, some of the elements that are contained can be copyright protected. Original artwork, photographs, pictures or writings can also be covered but not your domain name. The automated database and original computer programs that belong to you can be copyrighted. You can do the same with original content that is placed in an electronic daily & business newsletters. All original work that you place in FTP are protected only if you have a copyright.
- Photographs and Videos
Original photography and videography can also be copyrighted. For example, if you snap pictures of your new product line for advertising purposes, you can protect those photos with copyright to help discourage others from using them without your permission. The same goes for videos, too. Be careful about posting those videos on social media sites though—each site has its own Terms of Service for posting content, and many of those user agreements include automatic limitations or licenses of your copyright protections.
Business logos are most easily protected by trademark rather than by copyright. Until very recently, in fact, the US Copyright Office has been reluctant to grant copyright registration to corporate logos. That’s beginning to change, though, and seeking copyright registration for your corporate logos may be wise, especially if your business offers products or services that cannot be shipped across state lines (like THC-containing products or certain firearms) due to federal regulations.
Copyright Infringement Protection
The material you copyright gives you exclusive rights toto control how the material can (or can’t) be used by others within the United States. For example, if one of your competitors copies your unique and creative productdescriptions to advertise their own competing product, you may be able to force them to change those descriptions, recall printed catalogs, or even pay you money damages. Be careful, though—you should consult a lawyer who specializes in copyright law to help you because acting on your own may open you up to civil or even criminal liability.
Things That Cannot Be Copyrighted
There are a few things that cannot be copyright protected. Copyright protection is not provided for facts or ideas; only for your unique and creative expressions of those ideas or facts.