Original works are automatically protected by copyright, but when would you need to copyright or trademark something explicitly? Here are some common FAQs!
- FAQs about copyrights:
- Can you copyright a business name and mottos? Brand names and logos would fall under the trademark umbrella.
- Can you copyright your website? Generally, you can’t explicitly copyright a whole website, but you can register individual works that appear within it.
- Can you place a copyright notice on an original website? Yes.
- When should you copyright something? Original works are automatically protected, but registering can provide additional intellectual property defenses.
- What’s the process for registering? You’ll need to submit an application, pay a fee, and provide a deposit copy of the work.
As a small business owner, you want to do everything possible to reduce liabilities and risks—but the world of intellectual property can quickly become confusing. Many entrepreneurs may wonder if they should copyright their content or business name to protect it from being used by others.
This guide briefly walks through common questions about copyrights and trademarks:
Can I copyright my business name and mottos?
First, it’s essential to understand the difference between a copyright and a trademark. A copyright protects original artistic works that have been fixed in a tangible medium, including a work of art, photograph, book, article, or song. A trademark, on the other hand, protects unique identifiers like slogans and brand names.
So, if you’re looking for protection for your business name, slogan, and even logo, you’ll need to look toward a trademark. You must use the item in a commercial setting to qualify for this protection.
For both copyrights and trademarks, it’s important to understand that you will have protection for your qualifying content automatically, even if you don’t officially register your work or brand. However, registering for copyright or trademark protection can give you more legal defenses should you need them.
Can I copyright my website?
Business owners typically don’t have to copyright their entire website. In fact, the United States Copyright Office states: “Although a website may contain text, artwork, photographs, music, videos, or other copyrightable content, the website itself is not typically considered a copyrightable work.”
However, sometimes the whole website or a page can be registered if it could be considered a compilation or collective work according to copyright guidelines.
You can copyright original content that appears on your website, including each image, video, and piece of text. You would register an original blog post, white paper, or article you produced, for example, as a literary work, and an illustration you created or photograph you took as visual artwork.
Other examples of copyrightable content include recordings, music, videos, images, and other audiovisual works.
However, uncopyrightable material associated with a website would be:
- Ideas and plans for future websites
- Functional design elements
- URLs and domain names
- Website layouts or formats
- Unoriginal material (names, icons, familiar symbols)
- Work that is in the public domain
Can I place a copyright notice on my original website?
You may have noticed that many websites include a copyright notice with the year at the bottom of every page. You can do this as soon as your website is live to remind visitors that they cannot reproduce the original website content elsewhere, and it costs nothing. The copyright symbol can be placed on any work you have created, regardless of whether it was registered with the Copyright Office.
Include the copyright symbol (©) or “Copyright,” followed by the current year and your company name.
When should I copyright something?
The next question you’re probably asking is, should you copyright?
Remember, anything original you create is automatically protected by copyright laws, even if you don’t register it officially. However, filing for copyright registration simply provides further protection, including increasing eligibility for statutory damages and providing concrete proof of ownership should you need it.
This is what the Copyright Office says about whether or not to register:
“Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.”
What’s the process for registering for copyright?
If you decide to register original works for copyright protection, there are three key elements to gather and submit:
- A completed application form
- A nonrefundable filing fee
- A deposit, which is a copy (or copies) of the work you’re registering
The application form will ask the author’s identity, the type of work registered for copyright, and the copyright owner. You’ll need to submit the above three items for each item you want to register with the US Copyright Office.
In the end, the decision to copyright material is an individual one, and some protections are automatic. But doing so may have some advantages should legal action become necessary. Be sure to contact a qualified business or IP attorney to review the options or assist with possible infringement.
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