Obtaining IP Rights: Copyright

Copyright protection is obtained without any official procedure. A work is automatically protected as soon as it exists, without any special registration, deposit, payment of fee or any other formal requirement.

(Image: Getty images/maxkabakov)

Qualifying for copyright protection

To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original.

An original work is one that is independently created and not copied from the work of another or from materials in the public domain. Originality relates to the form of expression and not to the underlying idea.

Some countries also require that the work be fixed in some material form, for example: written on paper, stored on a disk, painted on canvas or recorded on tape. Choreographic works or improvised speeches or music performances that have not been notated or recorded, are not protected.

 Expert tip

Copyright law does not protect ideas or concepts; it only protects the way these are expressed in a particular work. It does not protect the underlying idea, concept, discovery, method of operation, principle, procedure, process, or system, regardless of the form in which it is described or embodied in a work. Written instructions or sketches explaining or illustrating a concept or method, however, are protected by copyright.

Proof of creation

You can create evidence that you authored a work at a particular point in time through:

  • Registration: Some countries have a national copyright office that provides an option to deposit and/or register your works for a fee. Doing so provides evidence of the existence of a valid claim to copyright protection.
  • Deposit: You may deposit a copy of your work with a bank or lawyer. Alternatively, you could send yourself a copy of your work in a sealed envelope by special delivery post leaving the envelope unopened upon delivery. However, not all countries accept this practice as valid evidence.
  • Marking: Works that are published should be marked with a copyright notice. It is also advisable to mark your work with specific standard identification numbering systems, for example: ISBN for books; ISRC for sound recordings; ISAN for audiovisual works, etc.

 Expert tip

Although a copyright notice is not required for protection in most countries, it is strongly advisable to place a copyright notice on or in relation to your work.  The notice reminds people that the work is protected and can in this way deter them from copying it.  The notice also identifies you as the copyright owner, making it easier for those who want to use the work to contact you for permission.

Protecting digital works

Due to the ease of copying digital works and transmitting them over the Internet, many businesses employ technological measures to protect their copyright in digital content. Such measures are generally referred to as “Digital Rights Management” (DRM) tools and systems. They are used for defining, tracking and enforcing permissions and conditions through electronic means and throughout the content lifecycle.

There are two ways in which DRM tools and systems can help control copyright in digital works:

Rights management information

Rights management information involves marking the digital works with information about its copyright protection, owner, etc. This can be done through:

Labeling the digital content: for example, with a copyright notice or a warning such as “May be reproduced for non-commercial purposes only.” It is good practice also to include a copyright statement on every page of your business website that spells out the terms and conditions for use of the content on that page.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI): a system for identifying copyright works in the digital environment. DOIs are digital tags/names assigned to a work in digital form for use on the Internet. They are used to provide current information, including where the work can be found on the Internet. Information about a digital work may change over time, including where to find it, but its DOI will not change.

Time stamp: a label attached to digital content (works), which can prove what the state of the content was at a given time. Time is a critical element when proving copyright infringement: when a particular e-mail was sent, when a contract was agreed to, when a piece of intellectual property was created or modified, or when digital evidence was taken. A specialized time-stamping service may be involved to certify the time a document was created. The WIPO PROOF digital business service provides a date- and time-stamped digital fingerprint of any file, proving its existence at a specific point in time.

Digital watermarks: use of software to embed copyright information into the digital work itself. The digital watermark may be in a visible form that is readily apparent, much like a copyright notice on the margin of a photograph, or it may be embedded throughout the document, just as documents are printed on watermarked papers. Often, it is embedded so that in normal use it remains undetected. While visible watermarks are useful for deterrence, invisible watermarks are useful for proving theft and on-line tracing of the use of a copyright work.

Technological Protection Measures

Some businesses prefer to use technology to limit access to their works to only those customers who accept certain terms and conditions for the use of the works. They use Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) to permit/deny access or use of the digital works.  Such measures may include the following:

Encryption: often used to safeguard software products, phonograms and audiovisual works from unlicensed use. For example, when a customer downloads a work, DRM software can contact a clearinghouse (an institution which manages the copyright and related rights) to arrange payment, decrypt the file, and assign an individual “key”- such as a password – to the customer for viewing, or listening to, the content.

Access control or conditional access system: in its simplest form, it checks the identity of the user, the content files, and the privileges (reading, altering, executing, etc.) that each user has for a particular work. An owner of a digital work may configure access in numerous ways. For example, a document may be viewable but not printable, or may be used only for a limited period of time.

Releasing only versions of lower quality: For instance, businesses can post photographs or other images on their website with sufficient detail to determine whether they would be useful, e.g., in an advertising layout, but with insufficient detail and quality to allow reproduction in a magazine

 Expert tip

Generally, protection of the economic rights lasts for the lifetime of the author plus an additional period of at least 50 years. In a number of countries, this period is even longer (for example, 70 years after the death of the author in Europe, the United States of America and several other countries).

Case studies

(Photo: © Bob MacNeil)

Copyright in the Digital Age: A Vital Tool for Artists

Mr. MacNeil feels that copyright is an essential tool to an artist’s survival as it protects his creations and career.

(Photo: © Bernard Oh)

From a Lone Stall to International Success

A valuable IP portfolio of trademarks, copyright and trade secrets has propelled Ya Kun to international success through a franchise system.”

(Photo: © Memory)

Successful International Expansion through Franchising

Each copy of the Memory Software includes a license for use stating that the software is protected by copyright laws and prohibits its full or partial reproduction for any purpose other than backing it up.

(Icon illustration credits: Getty Images/Momento Design/DStarky)