Copyright is something which all of us will probably consider at one time or another, whether it is for a photograph we have taken or some other piece of original work we have produced, but copyright becomes a very different issue when you have your own business.

Of course you will want to protect your original work as a business, so that no one else can use it without your permission and copyright can help you to do this. Copyright falls under intellectual property laws and can be used to protect your own work or the work of one of your employees, if they are working on a project for you.

Copyright applies to many different areas of work which are extremely relevant to businesses:

  • Written words, such as novels, web copy or poetry
  • Art and drawings, such as cartoons, photography or logos
  • Film, broadcasts and sound recordings
  • Computer programming, including apps for smartphones and tablets
  • Typographical layouts

Duplicate Original Stamp

Image by woodleywonderworks

Copyright Creation And Lifetime

You do not have to actually do anything to copyright your work. The fact that it is created by you and is original means that it is protected, but in order to make it absolutely clear, you may decide to take some steps to ensure that others know that your work belongs to you and is protected by copyright too. To do this you just need to add your name, the year that your work was created and also display the © symbol too.

The copyright laws protect your work for your lifetime plus 70 years in the UK, or 25 years in the case of the publisher’s copyright. However, just because your work has a copyright, it doesn’t mean that other people cannot use it, it just means they have to seek your permission and pay for the privilege as well.

Once you have given permission for your work to be used, this forms a contract between you and the other party so any breach of the terms of your agreement could result in legal action, which will be costly for both parties to be involved in.

It is essential then to make copyright explicit on any original work, and to always check the copyright on anything your business uses too, to make sure that you are not infringing someone else’s copyright.

Alternative Licenses

On the other hand, if you want some of the benefits of copyright protection but wish to allow people to use your content in a more relaxed and helpful manner, it should be possible to use one of the many other licenses available.

You should note that not all of these licenses will work exactly as you expect them to. ‘Joke’ licenses such as the WTFPL (not safe for work!) may not protect content users from legal action; conversely, licenses which attempt to ensure correct attribution, such as the Creative Commons Attribution license, do not necessarily ensure that your content will be re-shared under the same conditions.

This guide to the most common alternative licenses is a good place to start:

Creative Commons Attribution License

The Creative Commons Attribution License is simple to apply to a piece of work. Make it clear that an attribution license applies to your work, for instance by including this link on the same page, and make it clear what form you want that attribution to take.

Generally, you’ll want at least a link back to your site as credit. In cases where that’s not possible, you should make the attribution terms as specific as possible.

The attribution license has one big weakness that could potentially lead to legal complications. Although it protects against people re-sharing your content directly and then just changing the license that they’re using, it does not protect against remixes and reshuffles being shared under completely new licenses.

This could lead to an awkward or unclear legal situation later on, so it might be best to use the next license in this guide.

Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License

The Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License is equally simple, just link to this page.

The attribution share-alike license has the advantage that, if someone builds on your content in any way or remixes it for their own use, they still have to use the original terms of the license – so you might continue to get credits and authority from secondary sources, too!

The attribution share-alike license is a little more conservative in the rights it allows to content users, so if you want your content to be widely used you should probably opt for the attribution license.

Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives License

The Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative License is one step more restrictive than share-alike licenses. It means that although people can share the original work freely, they are not free to create changes, modify or build on the original work.

Its use is generally less well-received by the community than the other commons licenses. It has several business uses, however, especially for smaller businesses who might be unsure about intellectual property laws and want to play it safe.

For instance, if you create a work which has a company trademark within it, allowing rival businesses to share derivatives with your endorsement might devalue that trademark in certain jurisdictions. It’s not likely, but it could happen.

If this was something that you were concerned about, it might be worth using the Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives License.

Public Domain

Releasing work into the public domain is harder than some people think. It’s an interesting problem, in that relinquishing copyright is much harder than actually retaining it. Arguably, this is exactly how copyright should work, to protect the creators.

It’s easy to imagine a situation in which someone were coerced or conned into releasing valuable work into the public domain, in a situation where the work could really benefit them, and then have their work built on by someone unscrupulous. This is why some jurisdictions go so far as to completely disable the ability to forfeit copyright protections.

Some solutions exist, such as CC0 and PDDL for databases. It’s not foolproof, though, meaning that you might not be able to relinquish control of your content as completely as you would like.

Copyleft

Copyleft licenses, such as the GNU General Public License and Mozilla Public License, are typically relatively complicated licenses which (again, typically) relate specifically to code.

This is partly because of the unusual position of code and software in many cases of intellectual property law (unlike most written or creative work it can be easily patented), and partly because of the extremely high value of much code and software – meaning you’re less likely to want to give up quite so many rights.

There is much debate and discussion over which particular copyleft license is right for your code, and unless you are prepared to understand the complete implications of the specific license you are investigating, you may find yourself surprised by the subtle effects of some clauses.

The GNU General Public License is probably the most widely used copyleft license, and as such may be your best bet in terms of documentation and accessibility.

You may also choose to grant an informal license (such as “feel free to use this post wherever!”), but you have to make sure that you’ve specified the terms very clearly for the license to have the effects that you expect.

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