Once you have developed your concept, idea, or product, as I discussed here, you should start the process of protecting your rights to the idea. One way of doing that is by using the copyright process. This is your legal claim to the rights and ownership of the concept. This is grounded in the U. S. Constitution and is referred to as intellectual property law, or IP. If you happen to go to law school, this is a complete course and I highly recommend it to any prospective attorney.
A copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. In other words, the thing must be written down to be copyrighted, or as the lawyers would say it, it must be "fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."
So how do I go about claiming a copyright? Well, that's an easy one. Just write your idea out with a pencil, pen, or on a computer. Then you have ownership! OK, its a bit more than that to be enforceable. You can announce your ownership by inserting the copyright symbol, the (c) or the circled c with the date as we see below. I use this footer on all of my official documents.
By doing so, I accomplish several important tasks. First, I let you know how many total pages there are in the document. If you print them out, and lose a page, it should be rather obvious. Secondly, I have my website there so you can always contact me even if you don't have my email, phone number, and so forth. Finally I have announced to the world that I am claiming ownership of the document using the circled c letter and the date and the company name. That is the proper format.
So what does "All Rights Reserved" mean? Copyright notices, like that, used to be required to claim copyright protections in the United States (and a few other worldwide locations). You had to announce that you, as author, claimed all legal rights to the work. That requirement was dropped to match international standards when the U.S. joined the Berne Convention years ago. Today, this phrase is obsolete and isn't required to be used at all. As a matter of fact, you don't even have to add the "Copyright (c) 2017 Tidewater Capital Services, LLC" either! Remember, the work is automatically yours when you created it. This little notice just announces to the world that you do, indeed, own it and claim it. But I think the All Rights Reserved part looks sort of cool, don't you?
I have been asked many times how do I get that little copyright thing inserted in the written material I’ve created? This is easy. First, click where you want the copyright symbol to go in the document. Then, in MS Word, click the Insert tab and then click the Symbol icon usually on the right side of the ribbon. From there choose the copyright symbol. Of course there are shortcuts. Just type the open parenthesis, “(“, the letter “c” and a close parenthesis, “)”. When Word sees those three things together, it assumes you want to put in the copyright symbol and it automatically inserts the © in place of those three characters. Piece of cake! There are shortcuts for just about everything, but this isn’t a training session on MS Word. Go and take an online class for it. You will use what you learn for years in the future.
Asserting My Right
So a copyright is your claim to the ownership of the material. According to the law, no one can legally usurp your right to the material unless they have your permission. Naturally, you might want to charge them for that usage, require them to purchase something or just prevent someone from claiming your work as their own.
If that happens, how do you assert your right of ownership? You go to court and a judge or perhaps a mediator or arbitrator listens to both sides and makes a decision. Wait a second, if you just drop the copyright symbol on the page and the other person did the same thing claiming it was their original work, how is the judge going to decide who is the rightful owner? They will look at the date of first usage. That will settle it, assuming it can be accurately determined. But what if it can’t be accurately determined?
This is the point where the official government issued copyright comes into play. You can copyright anything written that is original to you, but to officially become the “first” in line you must register your work with the governmental officials at the copyright office. You can find that at www.copyright.gov. It isn’t very hard, and you can do it yourself if you want to. But stop and think about it for a moment.
If it is just a blog posting on LinkedIn or your website, and it isn’t exactly how to end famine or cure disease, who do you think will try and use your words as their own? Probably no one. So just announcing the copyright is likely ok. Don’t spend money on a lawyer unless it is obviously important and groundbreaking like a book you are writing. Once you do become rich and famous, then you can hire an attorney to handle the paperwork and you don’t have to worry about it. But until then, my advice is to look at each item by itself and determine whether or not it is likely that others will want to copy it. Even then, they would have to research it through the copyright office and see if you have formally applied for a copyright.
For example, let’s say you are writing a cookbook full of wonderful recipes handed down from granny. You, or your publisher, would copyright the entire book and that would include each word, diagram, recipe, and so forth, everything including the book covers. If you publish individual recipes on your website, you can just add the copyright information to that document. If you then setup a Google alert on the key phrases within the recipe, you should be alerted if someone tries to pass it off as their own.
To set up a Google alert, simply go to www.alerts.google.com and enter the text you want to be alerted on. In my case, I have entered my name, my wife’s name, all of my company’s names, and a few key sentences in all of my written works. You will need to have a Gmail account as well.
Then, if you want to try and stop them, you could have an attorney write one of those nasty lawyer letters threatening death and destruction if they don’t give you the appropriate attribution (and maybe a few bucks too). So for me, I copyright absolutely everything. I’m a consultant for the most part, and I run an industrial real estate investment business too. I also write an investment newsletter, available at www.valcap.info that you might want to check out. But I digress.
As a consultant I am constantly creating training material, documentation, and business documents of various levels of importance. I copyright the important stuff with the governmental office, just in case, and I announce it to the world using the footer shown above. Sometimes the engagement agreement with the client stipulates that they are owners of any material I create while working for them. Then they can apply for a copyright, or not!
Now I’m covered and occasionally when the document is critical I will go ahead and apply for a copyright at the copyright office. Do not be afraid of it, it’s just paperwork and a small fee. What’s that? You thought it was free? Right, that’s a good one. No it is not free, but then again it isn’t a million dollars either. Just hit the copyright website and you’ll see all of the fees. A basic, electronic registration is only $35. The renewal registration, if you really want that years from now, is $100.
What Can Be Copyrighted?
The most important question that fools many people is what can be copyrighted? It sounds simple but can get very complex, very quickly. The copyright office website gives us six major categories of copyrightable items:
Once again, if the work you are doing is important and has the potential for making money in a business, you should consider hiring an attorney to complete the copyright. If you have the time, ability, and desire, you can work through the material yourself. It is not very difficult, just time consuming and the opportunity to make an error is always present so make sure you have a need for the copyright.
Before you start the long journey at the copyright office website, let me give you the simple answer. If you think your work is so valuable, so important that you just can't imagine not having any protection, such as a copyright, then you should apply for one. You have the legal right to attempt it yourself. If you hire someone to do it for you, they must be an attorney. This is considered "legal" work and you have to have a law license to do it. Don't use uncle Joe, or your neighbor, just because they've done it themselves. Learn how to do it and you'll be much happier.
Of course, this is 2017 and the internet is everywhere. So a search of the deep pockets of the internet will reveal a company that will handle this task, under the auspices of attorneys, on your behalf. I found the well known www.legalzoom.com site that will, for a fee, along with the government cost, submit your works for government copyrighting. It is your choice, but this one you can do yourself!
As a business consultant I have one goal. That is to help small to medium size businesses create such high levels of economic value that together we redefine their respective industries. Thank you for reading.
Lee West - President, C.E.O.,
Tidewater Capital Services.