The Internet has changed our lives. It has also made it easier to copy, distribute and profit from someone else’s creativity. Although people know that taking someone’s iPOD without permission is theft, many people forget that taking an article, graphic, logo design, illustration or photograph found on the Internet, without the permission of the author, is also theft. Anyone who creates something and reduces it to a tangible form – whether in the form of an article, picture, graphic, music, lyrics, movie, or something else – is the rightful owner of that intellectual property. The owner of intellectual property has the right to reproduce or permit someone else to reproduce their intellectual property.
How can creatives protect their own intellectual property? There are a number of practical steps that every creative should consider when posting their works on the Internet. Here are five:
1. Place a copyright notice on your work. The laws of most countries protect creative work, even if a copyright notice does not appear on the work. However, it is a good practice to put a copyright notice on your work, where appropriate. A notice lets others know that this is your work. This is easy to do (see the crowdSPRING logo below).
2. Participate in online venues that respect your intellectual property. There are important differences between online sites for creatives. One important difference involves intellectual property. On some sites, creatives may unknowingly give up – often without pay – their intellectual property. In fact, some sites expressly say so in their terms of service or user agreement. It is important for creatives to understand the conditions under which they participate in online marketplaces or on various sites. For example, in paragraph 9 of crowdSPRING’s user agreement (https://www.crowdspring.com/user-agreement), we clearly state that others are not permitted to take your work without your prior written consent.
3. Protect your intellectual property with legal agreements. Although people will enter into transactions for intellectual property online without a legal agreements, most realize that it is very important to protect intellectual property with a legal agreement. For example, without clear terms specifying, among other things, payment and the rights that a creative would retain to their intellectual property (such as the right to display the work in a portfolio ), such transactions can result in serious disputes. Whenever possible, protect the sale of your intellectual property with a legal agreement.
4. Register your intellectual property, whenever possible. Although it can often be expensive and difficult to register your intellectual property with a copyright office, there are many situations where doing so is highly advisable. We’ll soon have an announcement that should make such registrations much more affordable and accessible to the world.
5. Become familiar with available resources for the protection of intellectual property. There are a number of ways that creatives can further protect their creations. For example, an organization called Creative Commons has established a framework that allows creatives to protect their works by clearly defining the rights that creatives extend to users of those works.
There are many more practical steps, and we will return to this topic from time to time, as it is extremely important to us and to our community of creatives. For now, following just these five steps will greatly improve your ability to protect and profit from your own creations.
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