Are you making the most of copyright protection in your business?

Although protection of copyright is free and arises automatically, it’s often overlooked by businesses when managing and maintaining records of their intellectual assets. The copyright in creative or artistic materials can be an extremely valuable legal right, potentially leading to licensing and other commercial opportunities, or the ability to enforce rights against infringers when necessary.

What does it protect?

Copyright protects original literary, artistic, dramatic and musical content across a range of business material including technical data sheets, computer programs, photographic and graphic marketing material, product manuals, labels and packaging.

Copyright also protects cinematograph films, sounds recordings, television and radio broadcasts, and typographical arrangements of published editions of works. Unlike registered intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks and designs, maintaining a record of copyright within a business requires internal processes to identify, capture and monitor the creation and variation of copyright material over time.

What are the traps?

Many business owners don’t give much thought to who owns the copyright in their marketing and promotional material, product literature, computer software and logos – this can change if the material was generated by employees of the business, or by external contractors.

But if the business was to sell or licence the copyright in that material, or enforce their copyright against an alleged infringer, the issue of original authorship and ownership of copyright would be tested. Unless this information is readily available, it can be incredibly difficult to sort through evidence of creation of copyright from many years earlier.

Not only that – the employee who created the copyright material might have left the business. Authorship and ownership information, as with all human capital, can very easily leave a business with an ex-employee unless the information is captured and codified in a useful way.

Tips for copyright management

Here are some simple steps you can take to manage your copyright:

  • Keep copies of early drafts of material created such as development of labels and packaging, marketing literature and product information
  • Record the names of employee(s) who create the material
  • Record the date the material was first created
  • Ensure copyright in materials created by independent contractors, such as graphic designers, marketing firms and software developers, is assigned to the business owners (you)
  • Keep a record of written assignments of copyright from independent contractors
  • Keep an electronic copy of documents with version control, particularly material put into the public domain used to promote goods and services.

Maintaining an inventory of copyright materials is viewed as a business asset. When you also have a register that demonstrates their status and value to the business, market opportunities will also increase. At the very least, businesses should keep dated copies of materials, particularly earlier drafts of works which will be presented to the public as a means of promoting the business. Any marketing or product related material considered good enough to be used to promote goods and services should certainly be considered capable of being copied by competitors.

In a competitive marketplace, sometimes even a simple copyright work may prove too tempting to copy by an up and coming competitor, and rights holders should be in a position to act swiftly to protect their broader commercial interests.

If you would like advice on how your business can encourage innovation as a core competency of your organisational culture, and how to set up the processes to identify, capture and turn copyright into a real commercial asset, speak with one of our IP Lawyers.

Watermark contacts

Leanne Oitmaa, Director, Lawyer, Patent & Trade Marks Attorney

Emma Mitchell, Senior Associate, Lawyer