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Copyrights for Creative Entrepreneurs and Service Providers

Copyrights for Creative Entrepreneurs and Service Providers

One of the most frustrating parts about being an online business owner is that when you post your content or sell digital products, it’s alllll out there for the world to see… and steal. 😓

I know, sounds pretty intense right? Maybe so, but it’s true!

Content theft is real and it’s actually way more common than you may think, especially in the online business world. 

It’s frustrating and annoying as a creator and it’s a straight up nuisance to deal with, but hey… no one promised that being a business owner was all rainbows and sunshine, right?

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared to know how to deal with annoyances if they ever happen to you to make the process a little bit smoother. 

The good news is that there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself and your content as a creative entrepreneur or service provider and it all starts with COPYRIGHT!

In this blog post, you’ll learn what exactly a copyright is, what does and does not qualify as a copyright, how to register your copyright, AND what to do if or when someone steals your work.

Let’s dive in. ⬇️ 

What is a Copyright?

A copyright is a collection of rights that are automatically conveyed to someone who creates an original artistic, literary, or intellectual work. This includes novels, music, movies, software code, photographs, and paintings that are original and exist in a tangible medium, such as paper, canvas, film, or digital format.

When someone has a copyright, they have the right to reproduce the work, create derivative works, distribute copies, perform and display the work publicly, and authorize others to do the same.  

The best way to think about how copyrights can be used or licensed is like a toolbox. 🧰

You can keep all of your tools together and use them yourself, let someone borrow just a screwdriver or just a wrench, let someone borrow your entire toolbox, sell each tool individually, sell the entire toolbox, or let someone use some or all of your tools to create something unique.  

So essentially, a copyright allows the owner to choose the ways in which their copyrighted works are made available to the public.

What Does and Does NOT Qualify for a Copyright?

Once people understand what a copyright actually is, they then often wonder what works qualify for a copyright and which works do not. 

The good news as a creative entrepreneur is that you can copyright almost any type of creative work, including: website downloads, videos, e-books, social media posts, books, pictures, downloadable PDFs and templates, virtual courses or trainings, product listing descriptions, musical works (including any accompanying words), dramatic works (including any accompanying music), sound recordings, and more. 

Some things you can’t copyright, however, include: single words or short phrases, book titles, headlines, slogans, typefaces, improvised performances, and non-scripted live speeches.

It’s important not to confuse copyright with trademarking!

From the list above, single words or short phrases (like the name of your product or company), slogans, and typefaces would be more appropriate for trademark protection than copyright protection.

For example, J.K. Rowling couldn’t trademark her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but she COULD copyright the content of the book. Down the road, when the book became part of a series, she was able to trademark ‘Harry Potter’ because it had then become a brand.

Essentially, for something to qualify for copyright protection, it has to meet certain criteria for originality and fixation.  

Originality means that the content has to be created through the “fruits of intellectual labor” meaning that the creator has not copied the work from another and that it took some minimal level of creativity to make it.

A work can qualify for a copyright even if it is identical to another work just so long as it wasn’t directly copied. The “creativity” element sets an extremely low bar – it only requires that the work possess some creative spark, no matter how crude, humble, or obvious it might be.

That being said, single words and short phrases don’t meet the bar because anybody could have (and many people likely have) put them together that way.

Another example is the movie Frozen – that title alone does not qualify for copyright, meaning that other people are allowed to use that word without Disney’s permission. However, if someone else tried to make a movie about an ice princess and call it Frozen, Disney may have a case for trademark infringement.

For a full breakdown on trademark protection, CLICK HERE!

Additionally in copyright law, the requirement for fixation means that the work must be recorded in a form that can be perceived directly or by means of a device “now known or later developed.”

Translated to: it can’t be a one-time thing.

So writing, drawing, sculpting, recording, and making notations all count as fixation, whereas improvisational or unrecorded performances of music, dance, or drama don’t.

For example, if you type something into a Word document but don’t save it, it isn’t fixed. Once you save it, it is. 

Copyright Notice VS. Registered Copyright

Now that you’re clear on what a copyright notice is and what works qualify, you might be wondering what the difference between a simple notice and a registered copyright is. 

A copyright notice is what you’re likely most familiar with seeing, as it’s simply a statement placed on a piece of work to inform the public that the work is protected by copyright.

For example the copyright notice on my website reads like this: © 2020-2024 The Boutique Lawyer.

A registered copyright, on the other hand, is a copyright that has been officially registered with the government and provides the real protection that you would need in the instance that someone does steal your stuff. 

Copyright registration is a legal process where you as the business owner submits an application and accompanying materials to the copyright office to obtain a formal registration of their copyright.

When a copyright is registered, you receive a registration certificate or a registration number from the copyright office, which serves as evidence of the registration. 

In the instance that someone has or is stealing your content (whether it be from your website, lead magnet, course, etc.) where a copyright notice has been included, you would then need to officially register your copyright with the government in order to file a claim for copyright infringement.

Ultimately, copyright IS automatic whenever you publish your work or content, which means that you DO have rights to the content, but official registration is not automatic. 

What To Do When Someone Steals Your Content or Copies Your Work

As a lawyer, I truly hope you never know that sinking feeling when you realize someone is riding on your coattails and taking away from the success of your business by copying your materials.

But if I’m being honest with you, as a successful business owner, it’s likely you’ll experience this problem at least once in your business career… and maybe even more than once.

It’s not fun and it’s definitely wrong, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it. So, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist or waiting until the worst happens, I want you to be prepared NOW so you can confidently take action when the time comes.

First things first, if you think your work is being copied you should ask yourself two questions right away:

  • Is your work entitled to copyright protection?

  • For small business owners and creative service providers, copyrightable content, as mentioned above, refers to original works you create that are fixed in a tangible form. This could be anything from written articles, marketing materials and software code to graphic designs, photos and even music.

    Once you create these, you automatically have the exclusive right to use, distribute and modify them. Others cannot do the same unless you give them permission, typically through a license or by selling the copyright.

    Prior to publishing any digital content, you have hopefully implemented a copyright notice, which essentially says, “hey! I’m claiming the rights to this, so if you infringe my stuff, you’re doing it willfully.”

    Including a copyright notice is the first step in being able to take legal action if needed.

  • Is your work really being copied?

  • It’s important to differentiate between “this is similar” and “this is exactly like mine.” The best way to determine this is to read through and examine the other person’s work and identify if they are using the exact language as you. If so, there’s a good chance that yes, your work has been copied.

    When you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, THAT is when you can take legal action to stop the copycat in their tracks. 

    Once your work has been copied or stolen, this is where the legal action comes into play. Before you do ANY of the following, the most important step is to collect receipts of the copycat!

    This includes gathering all evidence and screenshotting everythingggg before you ever reach out to them just in case they delete the content or block you. Once you’ve gathered all evidence, you can take the following approaches!

    More often than not, a lawyer would advise one (or all) of the following in this order:

    A friendly letter or email

    It’s smart and very common to start small and that typically looks like sending a friendly letter or email that addresses the issue, provides proof of your claim and asks the copycat to fix their mistake.

    This mode of legal action is usually done first with the hope to avoid things getting out of control.

    Sometimes this is enough… and unfortunately sometimes it isn’t. 

    If you’re lucky, you’ll find that the copying isn’t malicious, but rather from an uninformed action of a fan or student who doesn’t know any better. But in the instance that you have a real copycat on your hands that’s not willing to follow your request, further action will be needed.

    Cease and desist letter

    When a friendly letter or email doesn’t do the trick, a cease and desist is typically the next step. 

    A cease and desist letter is the same premise of a personal letter, but holds more legal authority as you typically will need to work with a lawyer to help you draft this letter to demand that the infringement stop.

    (Psst: The Boutique Lawyer can help you with this!)

    DMCA takedown request

    Next, if the letters aren’t working and the copycat continues, you can file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown request to serve as another form of legal notice.

    A DMCA takedown request is typically sent to an online service provider, such as a website hosting company or a social media platform, to request the removal of copyrighted material that is being used without authorization.

    The DMCA is a U.S. copyright law that provides a framework for copyright owners to protect their intellectual property rights online.

    File a lawsuit

    Lastly, if you’ve exhausted all of your options and the copycat is not adhering to your requests, you have the legal right to file a lawsuit and take the infringer to court over the issue.

    Most lawyers will likely suggest that you use this as your last option since so much is involved in a lawsuit and it tends to take a lot of time and money. But if you’ve done everything else you can and your content is still being ripped off, this may be the best solution. 

    How To Legally Protect Your Business and Avoid Copyright Infringement

    Overall, if you don’t legally map out exactly what people can and cannot do with your content and products, they’re essentially free to do just about whatever they want.

    They can send them to friends. They can ask for a chargeback or refund even if they used them already. And they can COPY them. 🥴

    These are all crappy situations we HOPE no one would do, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a lawyer, it’s that not everyone approaches things with a good heart. There are bad apples out there and they could be shopping your products as you read this.

    That’s why I’ve made it my job to help you legally protect yourself and your business, so you can make sure none of this nonsense happens to you – or at the very least, if it DOES, you’re legally protected and prepared to take action!

    This legal protection typically includes things like:

    🖋️ Terms of Purchase for Digital Goods + Services 

    🖋️ Copyright Notices

    🖋️ Website Terms of Use 

    🖋️ Privacy Policy 

    🖋️ Disclaimers 

    Every business owner selling ANYTHING online needs these (all of them).  

    And instead of making you track down each policy, I’ve taken the guesswork out of it for you and bundled them into one convenient place AND created a no-fluff course teaching how to use these templates to protect your sales funnels.  

    My Landing Sales Legally Toolkit includes EVERYTHING you need to safely sell your products and services online, so you can sleep soundly knowing your IP and profits are well protected!

    Take it from someone who’s seen the nasty side of online business – you don’t want to go another minute without the right protections in place. 

    Get the toolkit details here so you can get back to spending more time on the things you LOVE in your business!


    If we haven’t had the chance to *virtually* meet yet, hey I’m Amber – not a regular lawyer, but a cool lawyer that helps online business owners sell without getting sued. 

    If you like what you just read and want more cool lawyer things in your life, here’s a few ways to stay connected:

    Let’s be pen pals! Subscribe to my email list to receive all of my best biz tips and behind the scenes goodies to keep your business bringing in sales (legally of course).

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    Come hang with me on the ‘gram! I often do AMA’s on stories, so you can submit your specific questions when they come up.

    And if you’re in need of legal resources that you can ACTUALLY understand? Here’s a few ways I can help:

    Step into TBL’s free library of legal resources for creative entrepreneurs where we throw open the doors and spill the tea on what works and what doesn't when it comes to legal protection, systems and sales.  

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    Join the collaborative legal membership that teaches you how to grow your business into a protected brand.

    Need something else? Send me a DM! Always happy to lend a legal hand when I can.