What Qualifies as a Copyright, and How Can I Protect My Assets?

Thoughtful entrepreneur working in his office.

For those new to entrepreneurship who may not have a thorough understanding of all the terminology yet, it’s not uncommon to accidentally mistake a copyright for a trademark. Your own knowledge of what a copyright is and does might be fairly limited, too.

However, this is one business term that is in your best interest to have a thorough understanding of in the event that you plan to author or create original works of authorship—which many entrepreneurs do—and be credited as the appropriate source.

If you’re ready to develop a better understanding of copyrights, you’ve come to the right place for a quick primer on copyrights. Let’s take a moment to define the term, what it protects, how a copyright differs from a trademark, and the registration process.

A copyright is defined as a form of intellectual property protection for original works of authorship. According to the United States Copyright Office, these works fall under a spectrum of creative offerings that may include the following:

  • Literary works (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, articles, periodicals)
  • Performing arts (music, lyrics, sound recordings, scripts, stage plays)
  • Visual arts (artwork, illustrations, jewelry, fabric, architecture)
  • Motion pictures (movies, TV shows, video games, animation, videos)
  • Photographs (news, wedding, and family photos as well as selfies)
  • Digital content (computer programs, databases, blogs, websites)
  • Architectural works (buildings, architectural plans, drawings)

These works may be published, but they may also receive protection if they are unpublished. Copyright law states that the original creative expression, published or not, is still considered to be the work of its author — and if you are the creator of this work, then you are its author.

However, keep in mind that not every form of creativity may have a copyright. You cannot copyright facts, ideas, or systems, for instance.

We haven’t discussed brand names, slogans, or logos. After all, these words can be creative phrases of their own. Why wouldn’t they be eligible for a copyright?

This is where the difference between the two terms comes into play. Trademarks are words, phrases, symbols and designs that identify your business. These include the aforementioned brand names, slogans, logos, and taglines. Even a brand mascot may be trademarked!

Your trademark not only shows the world how unique and distinct your business is, but it helps to differentiate it from the competition. A copyright wouldn’t protect any of these assets, so the best place to go if you want to learn more, conduct a name search, or register the mark is the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Technically you already have a copyright. Let me explain how that works.

Copyright exists the moment you create the work. If someone creates extremely similar work to your own and reproduces or distributes it publicly without your permission, then they are infringing on your copyright. However, if your copyright hasn’t been registered you will be unable to take them to court for their actions.

That being said, it’s a good idea to register for a copyright early on and protect your work. You may file a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office which requires you to submit an application form and a non-returnable copy (or copies) of the work you wish to register. Filing may be done online and through the mail with registration requirements for both options outlined on the website.

Make sure to check in with the copyright office to see how long registration will take, as it varies per application. Although this process does require a little extra time and energy on your part, it’s well worth it to make sure that your creative works of authorship remain your own.

This guest post was written by Deborah Sweeney of MyCorporation, for Fundbox.

Fundbox and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

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