Copyright Law For Online Business: What You Need To Protect Your Business

25 Aug, 2021 By Bobby Klinck
Copyright Law for Online Business: What You Need To Protect Your Business

Copyright law is a concern of many online entrepreneurs. The reality is, if you’re creating great content, people are gonna copy it. This is a fact that you need to accept and prepare for.

As an online entrepreneur, you need to understand what copyright is, what it covers, and what your rights are. You also need to know the common misconceptions and the areas of concern you need to watch out for.

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What Is Copyright Law?

Copyright law is the area of the law that covers the content that people put out in their businesses. It’s all about protecting creative content. It includes everything about your online business, including your lead magnets, the products you’re selling, and the services you’re offering.

Ideas Versus Expressions

Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas or information but rather the expression of an idea. Let’s take a novel, for example. The copyright law protects your written work and not the idea behind your novel.

You can’t prevent people from using concepts, ideas, education, information, or advice. But they can’t copy how you package or express it. It applies to written works, music, dramatic works, images, pictures, graphics, sculptures, videos, podcasts, and other sound recordings.

What Does it Cover?

When you say you hold a copyright, it means you’re the person or company that first published the work. You have the exclusive right to reproduce the work, distribute copies of it, perform, or display it publicly. You’re also allowed to prepare derivative works, wherein you take an existing work and create another version from it.

What You Can and Can’t Do with Copyrighted Work

When you’re a copyright holder, other people can’t use your copyrighted work. They can’t make a copy, distribute, or display it. 

Let’s say you purchased a painting. Do you have the right to make copies of it and sell the prints? No, you don’t. You only have the right to own that particular painting and display it in your house. The copyright holder is the person who originally painted the work. 

What about music? When you purchase music on iTunes, you own a copy that you can listen to. You can’t make a copy of it and then sell it to others.

There are things you can and can’t do with other people’s work without getting yourself in legal trouble.

You’re allowed to:

  • Reference other people’s work or material
  • Take inspiration from other people’s work and follow the structure of their content
  • Include ideas from other people’s work, not the expression of the idea

You’re not allowed to:

  • Copy directly or distribute someone else’s work
  • Copy and paste other people’s work
  • Use a copyrighted image without the right permission

How To Get A Copyright For Your Work

Getting copyright on your work is easy. You don’t have to do anything. 

You get the protection the moment you create a copyrightable work. It’s already in a “fixed form,” which means you get protection. This applies to all intents and purposes. In the United States and other 190 countries, you automatically get copyright protection the moment you publish something.

Registering Your Copyright

In the US, you can also register your copyright. Why should you bother to do this if you get protection automatically? 

First, you can’t sue anyone for copyright infringement if you didn’t register your mark. You need to meet this legal requirement before you can bring your case to court.

If you take the time to register your copyright once you’ve completed your creative content, you will be able to collect statutory damages in case of a dispute, without showing that you’ve been hurt or harmed. You’ll get this extra benefit automatically.

However, registering your copyright isn’t something you need to do right away since there’s little chance that you’ll find yourself in this situation. You probably won’t sue someone for stealing your blog post. You should consider registering your copyright if you have something like a book or signature course.

But if you decide to do it now, you can visit copyright.gov to register your copyright. Prepare copies of your work because you’ll be asked to submit them to the copyright office. The registration is a straightforward process and will cost you between $35 and $55, depending on what you want to register.

Benefits of Using A Copyright Notice

Do you need to give people notice that your work is copyrighted? No, you don’t. Before 1978, putting a copyright notice was necessary to avoid losing protection. Between 1978 and 1989, people may or may not issue a copyright notice and still get automatic protection. 

Now, you don’t have to put a copyright notice on your work. You’ll still get protection automatically.  

Even so, it’s still recommended to put a copyright notice on your content because a lot of people don’t know that you get protection automatically. Some may assume that they can use your content because there’s no copyright notice. Putting up a notice warns them that they can’t use your work.

How can you tell if someone else’s work is copyrighted? You should assume that creative content, including written works, images, recorded video or audio, etc., that you find online is copyrighted. You can’t use them without permission.

What Is Fair Use?

Under copyright law, there’s a concept called Fair Use. It says you can make “fair use” of a copyrighted work without getting permission from its original owner. 

Herein lies the problem. Many people think of Fair Use as a cure-all concept that allows them to use any copyrighted stuff in a much broader way than what is actually allowed.

Simply put, you must never assume that you can use someone else’s copyrighted work and hide behind the Fair Use doctrines. It’s better to believe that you can’t use anything.

Let’s take a long book review as an example. Under the fair use concept, you can take out a small excerpt from the book to help explain your thoughts. Quotations from an event or speech are allowed. But you can’t use someone else’s work for commercial purposes.

Debunking The 7-Second Rule

Some people say that you can use seven seconds or less of a song without running into a problem. A few even claim that you could use up to 30 seconds and not violate any law. It’s simply not true. 

There’s no magic number that says it’s okay. As long as the work, whether audio or video, is copyrighted, you can’t use it without permission.

Don’t use the Fair Use policy as a get-out-of-jail-free card because it won’t help you. There are lawyers who make a living, fighting over what others claim as fair use. 

Common Area of Copyright Law That Get People in Trouble

Copyrights on Written Works

Bear in mind that copyright isn’t limited to exact copies. You’re not allowed to copy and paste an entire written work. You also can’t take out a certain section from an article, blog post, or book, and change a few words.

How close is too close? When it comes to plagiarism, some say that if a certain percentage of your work is the same as the original work, then it’s not allowed. The best way to avoid problems involving plagiarism is to never copy someone else’s work and edit it after. 

Whether it’s a blog post or a review, you should always start with a blank page and add your own voice or spin to it. Remember, you can take ideas but you can’t copy the expression of the idea.

There’s no clear rule on the number or percentage where it’s okay or not okay to use a copyrighted work. Some book publishers say it’s okay to use less than 60 words for a copyrighted written work. If it goes beyond that, it’s necessary to secure the permission of the copyright owner.

Meanwhile, you’re not allowed to copy someone else’s work, including taking screenshots, without getting their permission. Whether you’re praising or criticizing it, you have to ask for permission before you can use it.

Copyrights on Images

Images have copyright, and they’re protected, whether it’s found on social media or anywhere online. You can’t use it unless you get the right permission.

Here’s where the “right-click, save as” problem comes into the picture. It’s where many online entrepreneurs encounter a problem. Some people think they can save an image they found online to their desktop and use it in their content. You’re committing copyright infringement. You should only use photos you own on your social media or other online platforms.  

You can only use copyrighted images if you have a license to use them. Several websites offer stock images that you can download and use for a certain fee. If you don’t do this and use a copyrighted image without a license to use, you may be sued and asked to pay from $500 up to $750,000, depending on the demand of the copyright holder.

Copyrights on Music

Many people don’t know or forget the fact that music is protected. Some people believe that when they purchase music, they have the right to use it for whatever purpose. That’s wrong. Even if you buy music, you can’t distribute it. You can’t use it for your podcast, course, promo video, or even when doing a live on social media platforms.

A lot of people make the mistake of using music without permission and they’re violating copyright law. The best way to avoid this problem is to not do it. Don’t play music when you’re having a Facebook live because you’re distributing the work without permission.

Get A License

Whether they’re written works, music, or images, you need to get a license if you want to use them. Make sure your license is for commercial use. It must be royalty-free so you don’t have to pay based on the usage. Choose a license that doesn’t require attribution, which means you don’t have to disclose the identity of the copyright owner.

What Is DCMA?

DCMA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a law that was passed in 1998. It says a company that hosts third-party content won’t be held liable for copyright infringement as long as they have a policy and they respond to notices informing them that someone has posted infringing work on their websites.

If someone infringed your content on a certain website or social media platform, you should send them a notice and proof that someone is using your copyrighted work so they can take it down from their site.

What if you can’t get it taken down for reasons like the site’s being hosted offshore or it’s being hosted personally? It may not be worthwhile to pursue people who infringe on your content. Although, you can go to a lawyer and ask them to send a cease and desist letter to the individual who infringed your content.

However, it’s expensive to hire a lawyer. Before you do this, you need to ask yourself if the case you wish to pursue is worth the lawyer’s fees. And if you win against the person who infringed your content, you will actually get compensation? If not, then it might not be worth your time or effort to pursue them, unless you have a really high-ticket product and the resources and time to pursue a case.

Protect Your Work

Always remember that written works, images, music, and all other creative works are copyrighted automatically. Don’t forget to register your copyright for bigger projects, and if you want to use other’s work, make sure you secure a license. Use copyright notices even if they’re not required. Protect your content, including freebies, with agreements or terms of use that will limit what people can do with it.

If you want to learn more about the legal foundations of building your online business, I’d like to invite you to join BADA$$ Online Marketing University (BOMU). This is my completely FREE signature program that’s designed to help online entrepreneurs build their businesses the right way.

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Bobby Klinck

Harvard Lawyer and Online Entrepreneur