• Intellectual property
  • February 09, 2022

How to copyright an idea

We get asked this question all the time. A small business has a great idea and naturally, it wishes to protect its creative endeavour. One can imagine the despair when we advise that there is no protection in an idea per se, but rather in the way that the idea is reduced to practice.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects an author’s creative content in literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, as well as sound recordings, films, broadcasts and the typographical arrangement of published editions. 
Copyright does not protect a business idea or concept. For example, if a small business wishes to set up shop as a specialty food store selling an unusual form of cuisine, there is no copyright, or other intellectual property protection, in the basic idea. 
Where copyright comes into play is the images used by the business to promote its goods, the text that it uses to describe its goods, and the YouTube video series that it uses to offer cooking tips, for example.

How do I protect my copyright?

Copyright is an automatically created right. This means that (in most countries) there is no formal registration process. That is not the same as saying that you do not have to do anything to protect your copyright. 
You should implement a copyright register within your business to keep track of the content created, who created it and when it was created. This can be held on a spreadsheet to keep things simple.
You should also keep digital evidence of the creation of each copyright-protected work. Some companies will offer to store a copy of your copyright-protected work and certify when it was lodged as evidence of creation. This is not strictly necessary as well-kept digital records are just as effective.
It is important to remember that a few countries do provide the means for registering a copyright. The most notable example is the United States where registration of copyright is a prerequisite for claiming statutory damages.

How do I check if a third-party work is copyrighted?

You should assume that any image, music, or text, for example, that you come across is protected by copyright. 
There are some exceptions such as where the work is so old that its copyright has expired or where the work has been made available under a creative commons licence, or similar. However, if you cannot verify that the work is free to use, you should either not use it at all or first seek a licence.

How long does copyright last?

In most cases, copyright last for the life of the author plus 70 years from the end of the year in which the author dies. Of course, there are some deviations from this general rule but it is safer to work with the general rule and seek legal advice if you are not sure.

What happens if copyright is breached?

Copyright is a proprietary right that provides the owner with the exclusive right to copy, display, publish, and otherwise use, a copyright protected work. If someone else performs one of these reserved activities, the copyright owner has the right to seek legal redress in terms of an injunction or damages/account of profits. 
The first step is to send a cease-and-desist letter that sets out the nature of the breach and what the copyright owner wants to resolve the matter. If the matter remains unresolved, the copyright owner can bring proceedings through the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.


How can our copyright lawyers help?

At LawBite, our copyright lawyers are well-versed in providing  legal advice for various industries in the UK, EU and US. Our copyright lawyers can help you quickly and cost-effectively to:
  • work out copyright you own or could own
  • provide legal advice on how to protect your copyright assets
  • help you maximise the commercial potential of your copyright
  • help you avoid infringing other people's copyright

Our copyright infringement lawyers in the UK and US also deal with contentious issues, including:
  • investigating suspected infringement of copyright in the UK
  • advising on the tests for determining what amounts to infringement
  • helping you understand your options for defending a copyright infringement claim

We are committed to helping you make the most of your intellectual property assets, whether that be through offering advice on searching and filing or helping you resolve brand disputes.

Get legal assistance from LawBite

Confused about what the copyright law protects? Our experienced IP lawyers can give you the assistance you need. Book a free 15-minute consultation today to discuss your legal issues.


Additional useful information

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

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