Copyright law can be very confusing. What can you copyright? Do you need a lawyer? Where do you start? Before that, let’s look at what you can’t copyright: your business’ name and logo. Things like these that identify a business are trademarked, not copyrighted. What can be copyrighted are creative works like art, books, and videos.
If you want to get copyright protection for your work, the good news is that you likely already have it. In the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, copyright protections exist automatically from the moment you create your work. Depending on where you live, there may be a process for registering for you or your business, but registration is not a requirement for ownership of your creation, it is entirely optional and whether you should or should not depends on the situation.
United Kingdom & Canada Copyright
In the UK there is no registration. Your work has full protection automatically without paying any fees or submitting any paperwork. These protections last from its creation until usually 70 years after the death of its creator, at which point it becomes public domain. Canada’s regulations are very similar to the UK in that your work automatically has the full protection possible, but you can register it with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. This requires a fee but provides you with a certificate that shows proof of ownership, which can simplify cases of copyright infringement should you need to prove ownership in court.
United States Copyright
The US is a bit more confusing. Your work still receives copyright protection when it is created, but you cannot take someone to court without registering your work first. In 2019, the supreme court ruled that the point at which anyone can sue is when the US Copyright Office accepts the registration, not when it is submitted, meaning that it may be more valuable to register in the US than if you live somewhere else.
While there is no international copyright law, agreements between nations such as the Berne Convention provide reciprocal protection between most of the world. This means that whatever protections your work has in its country of creation must be honored elsewhere. If you produce a book in the UK without registration, you don’t have to register it in America to be protected from copyright infringement there.
Why should I?
If you have the option to register, should you? Well, if you’re planning on selling copies of your creation or marketing it in any way, you probably should. This cannot only help you if litigation does end up occurring but can also stop it from happening entirely. It also creates a public record of your work that helps licensors find you and your work. If you aren’t worried about that, then it may be better to hold off.
If you do decide to register, the process is rather straightforward. Both the US and Canada allow you to apply online and ask for information about ownership and a digital copy of the work within the application. While there are firms that will register for you, the process is simple enough that it is likely not worth the extra money you would have to pay on top of the standard fee for their assistance. The process is designed to be completed by the creator of the work and shouldn’t give too much trouble.