Copyright Protection

Copyright is an important component of protecting the content a company creates to promote their goods and services.

Copyright protection allows the creator of an original work exclusive rights over its use and distribution.  This protection can vary depending on the form of work and is usually only for a limited period of time. 

Business leaders should be aware that the exclusive right to a created work is not absolute, and subject to the USTPO limitations and exceptions to copyright law, which include fair use. Fair use can be defined as the limited use of copyright material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. 

Another major limitation to copyright is that it protects only the original expression of ideas, and not the underlying ideas themselves. 

Because companies in this day an age create and use so much content for a variety of promotional purposes it is essential that entrepreneurs understand the intricacies of copyright law. 


Fundamental Principles:

Copyright law applies to all creative work from paintings to computer programs. All creative work is automatically protected by copyright law even without copyright notice or registration. 

Generally speaking, copyright law of a particular work will last between 90 and 120 years, depending on the form of the creative work. After which time, the creative work enters the public domain, where creative work is free to be used without limits and conditions of copyright law. 


Meaning of Ownership: 

Generally, the initial owner of a copyright is the person who created the creative work. The laws granted to owners are specified rights of control including; reproduction of works, distribution of copies, making of derivative works, and the public performance and display or works.


In some cases, employees can become the owners of copyright work, as is the case when employees produce creative work while acting within the scope of their employment. 

In addition, it is important for business leaders to realize that copyrights may be transferred between parties should the copyright owner sign a written document offering the copyright ownership status to someone else. In this way, it is possible for businesses to purchase the right to use a copyrighted work. 

Lastly, copyright owners may allow for public use (fair use) of their creative work should they provide a statement of allowed use. In this case business can use the created material without the risk of infringement and lawsuit from the creator of the work.  

Understanding copyright is a valuable exercise for business leaders as it can help develop a framework for the kind of content their company can employ. And, whether the company will be required to either produce the creative work internally or seek the permission from creatives for the use of their work. 


Copyright Basics


There are a number of valuable insights to copyright law business leaders should be aware of as they begin developing and collecting creative content for their business. 


Image Rights:     

Represent the detailed legal rights and protections of the image, typically encompassed in the license of the image and held by the license owner, in most cases the creator of the image. 

Obtaining the license or permission to use an image often not only requires the approval of the image license owner, but potentially 3 additional rights holders depending on the nature and content of an image: 



All persons recognizable in an image control the use of their likeness. Therefore obtaining their permission is also a requirement. 



All logos and visual commercial symbols are controlled by the corporations who own the trade and service marks corresponding to the symbols. Therefore obtaining the permission of a corporation for the use of a visual symbol is also a requirement.



Image rights also apply to the design of objects in the photograph. For instance, to use an image of a building would require obtaining the license or approval of the architect who designed the building. 


Tracking down all of the licenses and approvals for the use of a particular image can be a time-consuming challenge, so it is important to use valuable online resources designed to protect the use of any image for commercial use.

In terms of finding great visual content, professional Image licensing firms including: stocksnap, pixabay, gettyimages, istockphoto, shutterstock, and flickr can offer various umbrellas and content guarantees to protect the commercial use of an image. Part of the fee structure of these resources pays for the guarantee to the rights and releases to use the photo. 

By taking advantage of these resources, and similar alternatives, entrepreneurs can use rich images with strong protections against any possible rights claims.

Plus, should there be any possible conflicts, lawsuits can only be filed against the professional image licensing firm rather than the company using it.


Copyright Best Practices


When deciding what content to employ for promotional or advertising purposes, entrepreneurs should consider the following guideline to facilitate their efforts of legally using creative works. 

The best practices fall under fair use, use with permission, and at home & abroad. 


Fair Use:

Depends on the type of creative work being used, and whether the fair use falls into the following reasoned and balanced application criteria: 

-    The purpose of the use.

-    The nature of the work used. 

-    The amount used. 

-    The effect of the use on the market for the original. 

Fair use statutes are highly detailed and the right to use works is typically subject to conditions and limitations.


Use With Permission: 

If the use of a creative work falls outside the statutory exceptions, authorized permission is required from the copyright owner. Non-exclusive permission does not always need to be signed, but is good practice, and it may come from the copyright owner or the copyright clearance center. 

It is important to communicate your intention to use a creative work and to seek the permission from it’s license holder as early as possible. Always make sure to gain permission of a work's use before using the creative work for commercial purposes. 

Attaining copyright permission can often depend on a variety of extraneous factors. Typically, monetary compensation or the exchange of goods and services is required to gain permission for use of the work from the listen holder. 


At Home & Abroad:

U.S. Copyright law applies to domestic and foreign works. Typically the same principles of copyright under the domestic U.S. laws apply to works that originate from within the U.S. or form elsewhere. In addition, many countries have agreed to award legal copyright protections to creative works of other nations across the globe.


Copyright Procedure


Entrepreneurs should be aware of a number of straightforward policies and procedures involved when seeking copyright protection for the use of created works. 

Copyright analysts must verify each of the following aspects of an image’s license in order to avoid any possible rights claims:


            A    -    Reproduction

            B    -    Derivatives

            C    -    Distribution

            D    -    Performance (not-image specific)

            E    -    Display


Because business are increasingly depending on rich content, particularly photographic works, understanding the rights and regulations of copyright law is essential to maintain good standing among all the involved parties. 

Securing copyright protection is a frequently misunderstood topic. Many believe that business leaders must register their company’s work before claiming copyright protection.

However, this is not the case.  

No publication, registration or other action of the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright protection.

Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created. 

A work is "created" when it is fixed in a "copy or a phono-record for the first time." For example, a song can be fixed in sheet music or on a CD, or both. 

Although registration with the Copyright Office is not required to secure copyright protection, it is recommended the business leaders do so for the following reasons:


  1. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

  2. Registration is necessary before an infringement suit may be filed in court (This is case specific depending on the country).

  3. If the work is made before or within 5 years of publication, copyright registration establishes prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the issued certificate.

  4.  If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

  5.  Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.


The length of copyright protection depends on when the work was created, published, and/or registered. The duration also depends on whether the work was created by an individual, a group, as an employee, or at the direction of another person or company. 


  • For works created by individual authors on or after January 1, 1978, copyright protection begins at the moment of creation and lasts for a period of 70 years after the author's death. 

  • In the case of "a joint work" (prepared by two or more authors) the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. 

  • For works made for by employees, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works, copyright protection generally lasts for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is the shorter.


Gaining copyright protection for a creative work is by far the easiest form of legal protection business leaders can secure for their company. 

But, properly understanding how a business can make use of a creative work developed outside of the business can be tricky. So entrepreneurs should be very careful when using works, and always verify whether or not the work is copyrighted or falls within the public domain. 

Lastly, here are a few interesting facts about possible creative work.


  • Creative work owned by government institutions falls under the public domain. So NASA images can be used without needing copyright permission. 

  • Much of the artwork created before the 20th century now falls under the public domain as the 120 year protection period expired (Generally speaking this is true, but still verify in each case to make sure). Even so, this means that art from impressionists of the 19th century can be used without copyright permission. 


When exploring the copyright status of a specific creative work, always consult with an attorney or legal advisory familiar with the copyright laws. Sounding out the advise of informed professionals can help business avoid needless and costly lawsuits with creative work owners. 

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