How does registering copyright at copyright.gov powerfully protect your coaching content?
So COPYRIGHT! This term gets thrown around a lot, obviously not to be confused with A COPYWRITER - someone that writes words :)
But it is tough to figure out how to legally protect your online content so others do not use and profit from it, especially online where all of our work is just “out there.”
But did you know that just writing “Copyright 2021” or putting a “©” on your website is not going to cut it in the courtroom? Here’s how it goes:
You create the most amazing opt-in “30 Days to XYZ” - it includes a 30 day checklist and is getting conversions like hotcakes. Then about 6 months later, you get an email from a reader that says, “Hey - I just found this opt-in “1 Month to X” and it is EXACTLY yours! (Note: something similar JUST happened to a friend of mine and that person hadn’t even bothered to change the colors!)
So, we all know the web is rampant with people stealing other people’s stuff - either intentionally OR unintentionally. In my friend’s case, the culprit turned out to be the web designer of the other person - and unbeknownst to her - he had copied information and emails from NUMEROUS people.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that woman would be off the hook for copyright infringement even if her web designer was the real offender because it was still her website (and THIS is why it’s super important to have the right clauses in your contracts with VAs, web designers, etc. that include language that they are providing you only with content/images that comply with copyright laws).
So what can you do when something like this happens?
Well first of all, take a deep breath and then determine if you truly and honestly have a claim for copyright infringement … meaning you must apply what I call the “Mark Twain Test” .... because it was the author of Tom Sawyer who said in his autobiography:
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
So did they just have a similar take on an idea or explain a common idea in a similar way? Because in that case you need to know, you can’t copyright ideas. Therefore their work passed the Mark Twain Test.
On the other hand, did they copy your blog, website or course word-for-word or even 90% if you compare the two works side-by-side? Or did they outright pirate your works and are reselling them … well now you have a potential copyright claim on your hands.
So what do you do when your copyright is being infringed upon? Of course, like MOST of the law - it depends. It depends on who is using it, how, and where.
To get started the next step is usually an email just to see what’s up. In the above case, it turned out the woman had no idea she was sending out stolen content to her list. Big oops that she had to correct and then deal with her designer separately.
If emailing doesn’t get them to take down the content, then sending a cease and desist letter usually gets attention. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the platform or web host that is allowing it. There are various laws in place to protect the owner, and a big one that has protected people in the online space is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which is all about the ‘notice and takedown’ and goes a long way to protecting content creators and intermediary platforms on the web - like YouTube or Pinterest.
If someone takes your video/writing/other content and puts it on another platform without your permission, you let the platform know through a ‘copyright infringement notification’ (aka ‘takedown’ notice) and they have to - you guessed it: take it down.
It will definitely help you in your coaching business to have some basic Copyright 101 knowledge in your back pocket so here are some facts about Copyright Protection in the U.S. (note, it is similar in other countries as well).
- Creative and literary works do automatically have copyright protection when a person creates in a fixed form, such as publishing a blog post online or writing a book.
- There is a presumption that this is your work even without formal notice to the rest of the world and someone can’t just take it or sell it (although we all use © as a form of ‘hey - this stuff is all mine!' Even though the © has no legal significance anymore).
- Copyright in the U.S. lasts for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years.
- Having a copyright gives you the exclusive right to (or authorize others to) reproduce the work, distribute copies to the public by sale or display publicly.
- There is no “international copyright” that will protect work around the world; each nation has its own rules. But the U.S. does have copyright relations with many countries because of several treaties in place.
Here’s the thing - in the United States, if someone steals your content you cannot sue for copyright infringement (and get $$$) for your work unless it is registered with the Copyright.Gov Office!
Registration includes submitting an application, a non-refundable filing fee ($35) and a copy of the work to be protected. Processing takes 2-3 months. BUT what is amazing about this is that once filed - you are entitled to Statutory Damages (ranging from $750 - $30,000) if someone infringes on your work.
Material that can be registered include things like books/ebooks, articles, blog posts, online courses, images, art, and basically anything YOU create.
So what do you do if you find someone that has taken your work but you haven’t registered that copyright? You can send a cease and desist letter and ask them to take it down, you can file a notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act who will send a notice claiming infringement or you can contact the web host, but none of these routes are guaranteed success.
The legal lesson here - if you are worried about protecting your online course or other content? Register them!
And if you’re worried about someone using the NAME of your business, course, or other program, the way to protect that is with a TRADEMARK, not copyright. You can read all about registering a trademark at: Do YOU need a Trademark? or The Destination Legal Trademark Hub.
Sarah Kornblet Waldbuesser, Esq.
Attorney for Coaches & Online Business Owners
After several years at a law firm and a few career jumps, she ended up falling in love with online business and loves helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams in a smart and protected way. She is also an adventurer, traveler, and food and wine lover. When not at her computer, she loves hanging with her family, having wine with friends, flying around the globe and connecting with other online business owners.