Your mother may have told you that sharing is caring, but sharing isn’t always caring when it comes to copyright and intellectual property law.
With the growing popularity of social media platforms, people are sharing images more than ever.
Unfortunately for the creators of the shared media files, few people understand that they are violating copyright law when they upload and post creative work without the authorization of the creator.
Sharing Isn’t Always Caring
One needs only log into Pinterest to find numerous copyrighted images that others have “pinned” or uploaded to the Pinterest website without permission from the image’s owner. Innocent though it may seem, every time an image is shared without the creator’s permission, a blogger, artist, photographer or graphic designer loses credit for her work and possible income that she could have generated from that work.
This proliferation of copyright infringement can understandably leave a creative feeling a bit down and discouraged. After experiencing infringement of her work, a freelancer may even wonder whether she can continue to make a profit when her time and hard work easily become mute at the hands of copyright infringers. After all, a creative can easily put in hours, if not weeks, of thought, work, and editing into a single creative work. That photo, logo, or written content represents the freelancer’s professional image, work ethic, and indeed, livelihood. Nobody knows better than a freelancer that the widespread violation of an artist’s work equates to theft.
Creating the Media File that Could: How to Protect Your Work
Creatives may feel like they are constantly fighting an uphill battle against technology and social media. But all is not lost for freelancers. By taking extra precautions to gain full property rights, owners of creative works can turn a creative work from the media file that couldn’t into the media file that could.
The over-abundance of information surrounding copyright law, the seemingly complicated process of obtaining copyright on a creative work, and endless contradictory anecdotes from other freelancers can lead some creatives to simply try their luck by creating a work, hoping that they can prove ownership if necessary. The “fly by the seat of your pants” method isn’t without precedence. After all, a work is copyrighted the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. This means that as soon as you snap that picture, design that logo, or write that original paragraph, your work is copyrighted. You need not register your work with the U.S. Copyright office for it to be protected because your work was copyrighted from the minute you created it.
Scenario 1: Creating for Keeps
Let’s see how this scenario would play out in real life. Let’s say I write up an original blog post and publish it. As soon as I finish writing the blog post, the content of the post, that is, the words that make up the blog post, are automatically copyrighted and I have exclusive rights to the blog post as its creator. Anyone who uses, publishes, or copies the content of my blog post without my permission will have violated my copyright laws and only I can legally transfer or sell the work.
My fellow creatives may read this information and sigh with relief, thinking they are off the hook. Not so fast, my creative friends, you may run into many problems by not taking additional steps regarding the ownership of your property. Let’s look at a few different scenarios you might find yourself in if you don’t register your creative work with the Copyright Office.
Remember that blog post I mentioned above? Let’s say I publish the blog post to my own blog. People comment on the blog post, share the blog post and the link properly, and I receive all of the credit for the post. I am happy as a clam because my blog post was automatically copyrighted the minute I finished writing it. I love my blog post so much that I decide to never sell the blog post or transfer it to someone else. In this happy-go-lucky scenario, I don’t need to register my work with the copyright office.
But what if things don’t work out so well? What if someone decides to copy my post and publishes the post as if it was her own work? While I am the owner of the blog post (I received those rights automatically when I completed the work), I cannot prosecute the copyright infringer without first registering the blog post in question with the Copyright Office. I cannot pursue damages and legal fees for copyright infringement until I register the work.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to foresee complications in this scenario. For example, it takes an average of 2.5 months for the Copyright Office to process an online application and a lengthy 6.5 months for print applications. Imagine your frustration as you witness someone else making money from your work, claiming it is her own while you wait for your registration to come back so you can begin the process of filing a lawsuit against the infringer. To add to the confusion, the infringer could have attempted to register the contents of my blog post with the Copyright Office in his or her own name.
Did that last scenario sound complicated and time consuming? It should have, especially since had I registered my work, the facts of my copyright would be on the public record, I’d have a certificate of registration and would be eligible for statuary damages and attorneys fees after successful litigation. Further, in the event of a dispute over the ownership of the blog post, my copyright certificate would serve as prima facie evidence of ownership of the blog post so long as I registered within five years of creating the blog post.
Scenario 2: Creating to Sell to Others
Hopefully the benefits of gaining full intellectual property rights to your creative work by registering your work with the Copyright Office are becoming clear. Nonetheless, let’s imagine one final scenario, one in which I write up a blog post so stellar that I decide to sell it. I haven’t registered the blog post with the U.S. Copyright Office yet because I intend to sell it quickly, right after I write it. I decide to do myself a favor sign up for an account with Kunvay so they can handle the transfer of property rights to my buyer. Not only is it free for me to transfer my blog post to my buyer, my buyer can rest assured that he has full property rights to the blog.
What’s more, my buyer won’t have to worry about me claiming ownership and seeking damages when he uses my work. Additionally, if someone decides to steal the contents of the blog post, my buyer will have full rights and ownership of the blog post and will be able to prosecute the theft accordingly, avoiding some of the headaches mentioned above.
Copyright law can be messy and time consuming. Using Kunvay at the beginning of the creative process can save you from a plethora of time consuming difficulties and get you back to what you’re best at – creating.
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About the Author: Taylor Hoffman is freelance legal writer and military spouse blogger. After graduating from Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, she founded Hoffman Writing Services and works as a freelance legal writer and blogger. Taylor lives in Hawaii with her husband and their two pet schnauzers.