Many new writers worry about protecting their work, especially when they plan to post it on the Internet. They wonder whether they should copyright their work but often aren't sure what copyrighting entails. So what basics should you know, avoid, and consider when assessing the copyright laws?
According to the U.S. Copyright office, a work is protected by copyright laws the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form. A tangible form is a form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. As soon as your original work is created in a real, identifiable form like the text of a blog or website, a photo, or a video, it is protected automatically by copyright law. As the creator of this work you don't need to display a copyright symbol or do anything special. Copyright protection exists upon the creation of the work. Nonetheless, it is prudent to have a copyright notice posted at the end of your work. For images and videos you can add watermarks or include your copyright in the alt text.
An example of the standard copyright notice is:“©2011 COMPANYNAMEHERE. All rights reserved.”
Whether you think of it as a deterrent or the equivalent of a “No Trespassing” sign, it's a good business practice to include a copyright notice on everything you create. Conversely, it is possible for you to infringe on the rights of others, particularly when you find exactly what you need in another online source. In this instance, you may be able to use the content under the “Fair Use” Doctrine. This doctrine doesn't allow you to copy the entire piece, but you can legally use a short excerpt from it. It's always a good idea to cite the source of the excerpt with a link to the original document in order to reassure the copyright owner of your honorable intentions and to make your piece look well-researched. Bear in mind that others can use your content under this same rule.
Generally speaking its best to assume that everything is copyrighted – remember, once it’s in fixed format, the creator owns it. So even if you intend to use the “Fair Use” Doctrine, consider getting permission from the creator first… if you can find them. In today’s world of sharing all things socially and researching primarily online… it’s hard to tell if the poster of the content is actually the creator, even if he or she claims to be.
In terms of your own content, you can make it easier for others to find you and get your permission to use your content (or at least cite you as a source) if you copyright everything you create, especially if you post it online. Copyright it using your name or your company name, as appropriate. Include the copyright in a document’s header or footer and then create a PDF of the document so it can’t be edited. With graphics, imbed the copyright in the image itself, not just in the image’s byline. Then, if others play by the rules they’ll reach out to you or at least mention you as a source when they repost the content. If not, at least others can see the imbedded copyrights for themselves and recognize you as the original source. Depending on how someone else reposts your content, they may actually cite you as the source. If so, you can be notified of that by setting up a Google alert for your name or company name. Google will then tell you every the name shows up on the internet.
Are there other ways to keep track of whether someone has used your copyrighted content? If you are an individual or small business, you'll probably only find out about an infraction by accident, by searching for your own content and coming across the copycat, or you maybe by being tipped off by an existing customer. You can hire a company like FairShare or Copyscape to help you track your web pages and scan for violations. These services make it possible for small businesses like yours to find and confront the plagiarist who threatens your brand.
Fabulous information. It is so critical to know these legal ins and outs. Thanks. gl
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