Every entrepreneur should know how to protect and grow their business by leveraging copyright. In this article, we’ll answer 5 of the most common questions entrepreneurs have about copyrights: 

  1. What is a copyright?
  2. How can I use copyrights to my benefit?
  3. How do I get copyright protection?
  4. What do copyrights cover?
  5. How can I avoid infringing the copyrights of others?


1. Copyrights protect the expression of ideas.

Copyrights are a form of intellectual property. They protect things like books, music, photographs, and software. Owners are given the exclusive right to reproduce their work, distribute it, display or perform it, and create derivative works. 

It’s important to note that copyrights protect your particular expression of an idea. They don’t protect the concept or idea itself. 

Let’s put this into context. 

You write a book on accounting principles. You copyright the book, making it illegal for someone to use your exact words without your permission. However, others will still be able to write their own books using some of the exact concepts you mentioned. You don’t own the rights to the ideas and concepts you shared, only your form of expression of that idea. 


2. Copyrights are beneficial to entrepreneurs.

Copyright protection extends beyond creative works into business documents, presentations, marketing materials, and even computer code. This means many items created in the daily course of business can potentially be copyright-protected. Once you own the rights to your work, others can only use your work with a license from you. You can charge others to license and use your work, making it a valuable asset in your business. 

If you pay others to create content for you, you want to make sure you own the content. It’s important that your contractors and employees sign agreements transferring copyrights to any work they create on your behalf. Copyrights can only be transferred in writing, so it’s imperative to execute written agreements before work is created. 


3. Officially registering your copyright provides additional protection.

Technically, works are copyrighted as soon as they are written or recorded. However, there are benefits to registering your work. Registration enables you to file an infringement suit against anyone who misuses your work, and you’ll be eligible for statutory damages, as well as other costs associated with the infringement. 

You can register your works online with the US Copyright Office for a fee. Once you register your work, your original authorship is presumed. You can also monitor and protect yourself against infringement.


4. Copyrights don’t cover everything. 

U.S. Copyright laws do not protect:

  • Facts, ideas, systems, or methods (although they may protect the way these things are expressed);
  • Domain names;
  • Works of the U.S. Government, like judicial decisions or government press releases;
  • Against unauthorized use in a foreign country; and
  • Works that fall within the public domain.

Note: Works are considered public domain if their copyright term expires or if the author specifies the work is public domain. 


5. How to avoid copyright infringement accusations.

As an entrepreneur, you also need to protect yourself and your company from infringing the copyrights of others. Many people mistakenly believe that sharing third party content is acceptable as long as you cite the original source. This is incredibly risky because attribution alone is not a defense to infringement. So, if you are using works that aren’t in the public domain, always make sure your company has permission.

Learning intellectual property basics is an important component of a healthy startup. Not only can you use copyright laws to increase business assets (and revenue), it’s also necessary to stay abreast of laws to protect your company from lawsuits. For more information on copyright, check out Chapter 3 of our free interactive ebook, The Intangible Advantage.


Disclaimer: Nothing in this article shall be construed as legal advice, or as creating an attorney/client relationship.

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The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.