How to Copyright Intellectual Property: 5 Essential Steps

Disney’s mascot almost wasn’t Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney’s original cartoon character was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but when Disney tried to strike out on his own he learned he didn’t own the copyright to the Oswald character. Instead, the studio he produced the cartoons for (Universal) did.

Had Walt possessed a better knowledge of copyright law, he would have known whether or not he maintained the rights to his character and how to protect them. Such a fate could befall you too if you don’t take careful steps to copyright your work. But how can you do that?

Well, you’re in luck. We’re here to give you the five essential steps on how to copyright intellectual property! So let’s start with…

1. Can Your Work Get Protected Through Copyright?

One of the first steps you’ll want to take is verifying whether or not your work is eligible to get protected under copyright law. Start by going through the catalog of copyrights made by the U.S Copyright Office (or the U.S Patent and Trademark’s Office’s database for those).  You’ll want to make sure that the thing you wish to copyright does not resemble something already on the list too closely.

You’ll want to make this search because it will save you the time and cost of getting the application out only for it to get rejected due to your lack of research.

It’s also important to learn the distinction between a copyright, a patent, and a trademark. If you want to protect a creative piece of work (like a screenplay, book, character, website design, etc.) then you want to copyright. Patents cover inventions, or something that either produces a new result or produces an old result in a substantially different way (i.e faster, more powerful, etc.).  

Trademarks, on the other hand, apply to images or designs that designate a certain entity. This covers things like slogans, logos, and more. 

Make sure you know what can’t get copyrighted too. For example, something that exists only as an idea and has no tangibility can’t get copyrighted.

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2. Potential Loopholes

Something to pay attention to when applying for copyright protection is the contract you’re under if you work another job. Some companies have stipulations in their contract that designate anything you make on “their time” becomes their intellectual property. And if you can’t prove that you made something off work time altogether, unscrupulous companies may take advantage of that and try to steal your idea away.

3. Learn the System

When applying for a copyright, it’s important to learn exactly what protections it affords you. For example, the general length of a copyright will extend to your lifetime + 70 years. You should also understand that people will use your work in a “fair use” capacity at some point. This means that people can issue copyrighted works if the intent is “transformative” (i.e, to educate, parody, critique, etc.)

If you want a stronger grasp on all this without doing all the work, consider bringing in a copyright lawyer. They can guide you through the process every step of the way. Plus, if your copyright gets infringed upon, they can aid you in the court battle to get you your dues.

4. How to File for Copyright

While it is true that your work falls under copyrighted protection as soon as they are in a physical form, relying on this protection alone has drawbacks. The main drawback is that if someone plagiarizes your creation, you’ll have to dig up all the proof before you can take action.  You’ll also find it more difficult to seek the same level of financial re-compensation you could if you had achieved a “higher level” of protection.

To get around this, file for copyright registration. To do this, you’ll want to go to Copyright.gov and register through their portal. There is a small fee for this ($35) and a large chunk of paperwork that you’ll have to complete. The questions will pertain to things like the kind of work you want to register, when it was started, when it was finished, etc.

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In addition, you’ll need to mail in some form of the work in question as proof (this cannot be returned to you). Once that’s done you’ll have to wait a couple of months for the form to go through. 

If you don’t want to do it online, you can also print the form out and do it by hand. Then, you have to mail it to the U.S Copyright Office. However, this process costs more and takes longer to get results back from (as long as 28 weeks sometimes).

But what happens if you get denied? If that’s the case, you can resubmit the application for an appeal (with a bonus fee). If you want to submit claims for a patent or trademark, you need to apply through the USTPO. There is also a different web of fees regarding applications with these two. 

5. The Do-Not’s of Copyright Law

The first thing to avoid at all costs in using a “poor man’s copyright”. This is a method where people will mail themselves a copy of the work they want copyrighted. Since that work was processed by a federal organization (the U.S Postal Service), the reasoning goes that this establishes a date for the copyright. As a result, it will stand up in court if someone tries to produce evidence saying they created said thing first.

However, this is not the case. Courts have a track record of seeing this defense as flimsy (since you could fake this method) and it has no real legal protection. IF you’re that concerned about legal defenses, you’re better off going through the whole formal registration process. 

Knowing How to Copyright Intellectual Property? Easy Money

Voila! Now that you know all about how to copyright intellectual property with these 5 essential steps, you’re ready to ensure that no one can take your ideas from you again! And for more information on improving your business and business law, make sure to check out the other posts on our blog!