Do You Understand Copyright Law?

Copyright symbol

One of the major challenges facing your business today is the maintenance of a website. But since copying material is so easy on the Internet, it's critical that you know how to protect the content on your site, along with other published work that your company produces.

The answer lies in copyright safeguards. Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is created in any tangible medium. It only protects a specific expression of an idea.

To be valid, a copyrighted work must have some minimal level of originality. In many cases, the author of a copyrighted work is not the owner so it's important for your company to secure its rights.

Let's say you hire a freelancer to write a book about your company. If you don't have a contract stipulating that you own the copyright, the writer probably owns it. Just placing the copyright symbol on the book with your name is not enough.

A work authored by your employees within the scope of their designated employment is called a "work made for hire". As such, the employer is the author of the work -- not the person who created it. This is also the case with contractually commissioned works.

How long does a copyright last? The term is based on the identity of the owner. As a general rule, for works created after Jan. 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.

Copyright holders should place a copyright notice as follows © YOUR NAME Year of Publication. For example, "© Ajax Corp 2001. All Rights Reserved."

What about putting material you find elsewhere on the Internet on your website? Don't make the mistake of thinking you can copy anything off the Web and use it for free. Even if you give credit to the author, you can still be infringing on the copyright if you don't have permission to use the work.

A Copyright Prevents Others From:

  • Reproducing a work in copies or sound recordings;
  • Creating spin-off or "derivative" material;
  • Distributing copies to the public by sale, rental, lease or transfer of ownership;
  • Performing literary, musical, dramatic and motion picture works; and
  • Displaying copyrighted pictures, graphics or sculptured works.

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