Copyright Issues for Small Businesses

Copyright attorneys can help business owners to reduce costs and help protect rights to valued creative works.

The excitement of creating a small business drives entrepreneurs to develop keen ideas, useful products and innovative business systems. Successful enterprises are driven through diligent promotion. This is why marketing materials are so important. Brochures, commercials, and online advertisements are ways entrepreneurs introduce themselves to potential customers and explain how their businesses work.

In promoting ideas, small business owners encounter copyright issues every day. It is important to understand how copyrights work and how to protect against infringement, especially with the proliferation of pictures, songs and information available made available through the Internet.

Copyright is a form of legal protection given to authors of "original works of authorship". This can include pictures, writings, artistic works, computer programs, graphic and sculptural works, and original recordings. Copyright is created automatically when the work is originally produced. While there are significant benefits to registering a piece with the United States Copyright Office, it is not necessary to do so in order to gain legal protection.

Because of the abstract nature of trademark protection, small business owners should recognize when they have ownership rights. Essentially, when they develop something on their own, such as a logo or promotional article, they own the copyright on what they have created. However, a design firm or marketing agency that develops these materials may own the rights on them, not the business owner. In some instances, an agency may sell the ownership rights along with the materials, but it is prudent to be sure what is being sold.

Clarification of ownership rights is especially important with images and writings found on the Internet. Simply because content is readily available does not mean that it can be used for free. After all, it is likely someone's intellectual property, and cannot be used without express permission by the owner. Some websites allow images to be purchased for a fee, and others just want recognition for the pictures that users post on their sites. Whatever the payment mechanism may be, business owners should be certain about what they are purchasing in contrast to what is free.

If another party has violated your copyright, you may have a right of action to recover statutory damages and attorneys' fees. However there are many potential dispute resolution options short of suit which can be explored such as negotiating a licensing agreement. Clients should identify copyright lawyers with appropriate skill and experience to assist promptly when an intellectual property issue arises.

This article is not intended to be legal advice. However, an experienced business law attorney can advise entrepreneurs with questions or concerns about copyright protection.