In our globalized, networked society, you can post a business document, product photo, jingle or advertising video online in Coney Island, New York, and it can be seen almost instantly in the Palm Islands, Dubai.
It might also be copied within moments and used by someone else, even a rival business, with or without your permission. Copyright can help protect you against unfair use of your business materials, but such protection is offered on a country by country basis, so getting worldwide copyright to protect your intellectual property might seem to be quite a chore. However, it's surprisingly straightforward.
Overview of Copyright
Copyright is legal protection for creative works for business or personal use, such as music, photographs, brochures, manuals, stories, and videos. The copyright holder is usually the creator of the work, although under some circumstances another party or a business may hold the copyright. For example, if you hire a photographer to take a product shot, you can arrange to transfer the copyright to your business. The copyright holder has the exclusive right to copy, sell, alter or otherwise use the work. Anyone else wanting to use the work must first obtain the permission of the copyright holder, except for very minor uses, such as extracting a small quote from a brochure to use in a newspaper article.
Copyright protection is provided by individual national laws so that a work created in the United States is protected by U.S. law and the protection only extends within the country.
The United States participates in several international treaties that help coordinate and standardize copyright protection among all the countries that are signatories to the treaties. The two broadest treaties are the Berne Convention and the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty. These international treaties assure that your work, copyrighted in the United States, also receives copyright protection in other countries.
A key provision of copyright treaties is that copyright protection is automatic. As soon as you create a new work in concrete form, such as on paper or stored in an electronic file, the work is protected by copyright. You do not have to register the work or place a copyright notice on it in order to be protected.
Advantages of Notification
Although not required, you can place a copyright notice on your business materials to emphasize its protected status and to identify yourself as its creator. A standard copyright notice has a conventional format of a copyright symbol (the letter "C" in a circle), your name or your business name, and the year that the work was created.
Advantages of Registration
You can also register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration confers additional rights to you as the copyright holder. For example, you must register the work in order to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit to federal court. Registration also establishes a creation date for your work that is legally recognized in cases of copyright ownership disputes.
Countries Without Protection
Almost all countries participate in bilateral or multilateral copyright agreements with the United States. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, there are only seven countries that do not have such agreements in place: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, San Marino and Turkmenistan.
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