“Content creator” is one of those phrases that gets thrown around a lot. The phrase is always in the news, content creator jobs are on the rise across industries, and a few of the most successful content creators are making millions of dollars on social media. Everybody wants to get in on the content creator game, which I know because Saturday Night Live has parodied the whole concept.

For people out there writing things, recording things, painting things, designing things, (i.e., creating things!), it is obvious that society has placed huge social and financial value on the stuff people are making–from controversial adults to adorable kids. But, there is not a clear blueprint on how to get from writing a great blog post or posting a funny video to a real career based on leveraging those things on and off line.

One step between creating content and monetizing content, for many creatives, is protecting that content.

For better or worse, society has moved to a place where intellectual property protection is a mandatory consideration for entrepreneurs and content creators. You’ll have to decide where you fit on the spectrum of wanting to do anything with your copyrighted work, but to get there you’ve gotta understand what you’ve got first.

In the United States, copyright law’s DEFAULT is to protect your creative works when you meet three requirements: you create an (1) original (2) work that is also (3) “fixed.”

Once you’ve checked all three boxes, you automatically get copyright protection for it. You actually don’t have to register anything, though there are some significant benefits to registering your copyrighted work.

(1) For work to be considered “original,” you have to independently create (and not copy) something that has a minimal degree of creativity.  The bar for creativity is very low. The US Copyright Office doesn’t delve far into the quality of a product.

Whether something is considered a “work” can be a little more complicated. The law uses the more official-sounding terminology, “work of authorship,” to refer to items protected by copyright law. This is defined to include: 

  • literary works;
  • musical works, including any accompanying words;
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  • pantomimes and choreographic works;
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • sound recordings; and
  • architectural works.

This list isn’t comprehensive though. You can advocate for other things should be placed on the list, though its a significant hurdle. For example, computer software and websites don’t appear on the list, but they can be copyrighted. It took about 10 years for legislators and courts to officially recognize computer software as copyrightable work.

On the other hand, copyright law does not protect:

  • ideas,
  • procedures,
  • processes,
  • systems,
  • methods of operation,
  • concepts,
  • principles, or
  • discoveries.

For nearly everything on this list, you’ll have to look to patent law or other forms of protection.

Finally, to be copyrightable, a work must be “fixed.” This means that we have to be able to see, touch, hear, or perceive your work in some way for more than a brief moment.

If you blow a basic bubble with soap and a bubble wand, for example, the bubble isn’t going to be copyrightable, because it will only last for a short period of time.

Things like rap freestyles, if they aren’t also recorded or written down, also aren’t copyrightable for the same reason.

What to do once you complete a work that meets the requirements

Once you have these three requirements met, you own a copyrighted work. Automatically. You don’t have to register it with the Copyright Office, though there are benefits to doing so, including:

  • You have a public record that you created something and have ownership of it.
  • If you want to sue someone for illegally copying your work, you have to have it registered first.
  • While you can register your work any time, if you do it within 5 years of publishing the work, courts can assume that the copyright is valid and that everything in your application is true.
  • If you register your working early enough, you can get better money damages if you end up in court. The other side may also have to pay your attorney’s fees.
  • You can record your registration with the United States Customs Offices to protect against illegal copies coming into the country.

If you choose not to register, you can still use a copyright notice so that the public is aware that you’re staking your ownership claim in the ground for the work.

A notice consists of 3 elements that usually form a single continuous statement:

  • The copyright symbol © (or for phonorecords, the symbol ℗ );
  • the word “copyright”; or the abbreviation “ copr.”;
  • The year of first publication of the work; and• The name of the copyright owner.

Example: © 2019 LVRG LLC

If you choose registration, the place to do that is the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. You can hire a lawyer to do this for you, and depending on the complexity you may need to. If you’re pretty savvy and want to try to do so yourself, the Copyright Office’s website offers some free tutorials based on the type of work you have.

The copyright duration will last one of two lengths of time:

  1. The life of the creator (i.e., your lifetime) + 70 years, or
  2. if there is corporate authorship, 120 years since creation or 95 years since publication, whichever date is earlier.

There are some funky things out there re. copyright durations for older works.

For even more guidance, one of the best books to walk you through the process is the NOLO Copyright Handbook.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, but this information should help you identify where you may have content worth copyrighting and the basic steps of what to do with it.

For more suggestions about how to identify potential copyrights, check out my 7 Steps to Protect Your Brand e-book.

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