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Why Copyright Matters to SMEs

Virtually all businesses interact with copyright in some way, as both creators or users. Copyright protects the expression of an idea, in different forms. These rights offer protection, in a wide range of media – like text, pictures, music or even data and software.

Whether you create a document or a work of art, or use the creations of others in your operations, copyright plays a role in your business.

How your business can benefit from copyright

1. Control who can use your creative outputs

2. Provides long term protection at a low cost

3. Create revenue streams

4. Raise funds on the strengths of your creative work

5. Protect your brand

 Expert tip: Copyright works are created by people. When you hire someone else to create something, make sure you get rights match the needs of your business.

 Expert tip: Just because you have access to someone else’s content – like a picture, video, or document – does not mean you have the right to use it. Ask before you use it. If you want to include a third party’s work in your own offerings, be prepared to pay for permission. Without the rights, you might have to pay the owner damages or even pull your offering from the market.

What you need to know about copyright protection

The rules for copyright protection – the protection length, what can and cannot be protected, and other criteria – differ from country to country. Usually, copyright protection is automatic and starts as soon as the idea is expressed, e.g. in writing, audio or digital form. The length of copyright protection can vary, but usually lasts for the author’s lifespan plus at least 50 years.

Some countries offer voluntary registration systems that can provide benefits. These include proving ownership, facilitating transactions, and starting the clock for damages. In some countries, you may not be able to enforce your rights until you register.

Copyright protects the concrete expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. Copyright protection does not extend to procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such.

A wide range of creative outputs can be protected with copyright, including:

  • artworks such as paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculpture;
  • books, novels, poems, and news articles;
  • brochures, catalogues, marketing literature, and packaging;
  • musical compositions, films, and video clips;
  • video games, computer programs, and databases;
  • graphic user interface, website content, and images;
  • advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.

In many cases, there are no direct costs associated with copyright protection. In some countries, you can pay for voluntary registration of your creations. There may be costs associated with protecting your copyright, like implementing technical controls in digital content.

As the copyright owner, you will need to monitor if others are using your copyrighted works or content. If you think your copyright is being used without your permission, here are some steps you can take:

  • seek professional legal advice – an IP lawyer would help you to make sure whether the work is protected by copyright and whether the is no any legal justification under a copyright exception;
  • if you found the use on an online platform, consider using their dispute procedure. Many platforms have a “notify and takedown” procedure, which will take down infringing content after some investigation. If there is no established takedown process, contact the service provider directly;
  • send a letter asking them to stop using your copyrighted content (known as a “cease and desist letter”). If you send a letter, make sure to follow up. If you don’t, you may lose your ability to stop them from using your creative work;
  • try to settle your disputes via alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, for example, WIPO’s alternative dispute resolution services;
  • initiate relevant proceedings before enforcement and judicial authorities.

Learn more about how to protect your copyright.

 Expert tip: Depending on the nature of your creation, you may also be able to use other types of IP rights to protect your business interests, including industrial designs, trademarks, patents and trade secrets. Software is a good example. Source code may be protected by copyright, while the method that the source code executes may be eligible for protection with a patent in some countries.

Learn how businesses are using copyright

Explore how copyright can be used to enhance your business, and find more case studies and stories.

Photo: Courtesy of Google Creative Lab, Sydney, Australia)

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