By now, we’ve all heard about the magic that is content marketing. I, personally, have seen businesses go from humble beginnings to massive empires on the back of creating content. Content marketing is how you build not only a business but also a raging (and raving) fanbase.
The kind of content you create might vary. We’ve learned about the many benefits of becoming a blogger, podcaster, ebook author, infographic creator or vlogger. Regardless of the type of content you create, what’s certain is that you put a lot of hours into crafting it. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably hired designers and copywriters, spent many hours researching your topic, and sat your butt in the chair to do the work (or paid an employee to sit in the chair). All all of your efforts pay off. You see the ROI on the blood, sweat and tears poured into crafting new content. That’s why 94% of small businesses are doing content marketing — it pays dividends.
While there is a great deal of discussion among small businesses about why content marketing is the secret sauce, how to do it and how to do it well, there is pretty much no discussion on how to protect all of that glorious intellectual property you just created.
What’s that? You didn’t realize the many hours of riveting video, painstakingly researched blog posts and interesting ebooks, podcasts, infographics, etc. you just produced was IP? Well, settle in my friend, I’m about to learn you something!
Intellectual property is just original creative works used in commerce. You make something and then you connect it in some way to selling something, and voila! You’ve got IP.
Content = Intellectual Property
If you’ve been creating content for any significant length of time, then you’ve probably had the experience of seeing your stolen content on some other companies website. It happens and it happens often. It happened to travel blogger Turner Barr, it happened to jewelry maker Stevie B., it happened to the Mixed Chicks, it happened to me. In fact, over $200 billion in intellectual property is stolen in the U.S. every year.
My point? That content you are creating everyday is valuable intellectual property.
That’s why small business and big corporations will try to steal it from you. Here’s another stat: Intellectual property in the U.S. is valued at $5 trillion. That’s double the amount of the U.S. federal budget. All of the money it takes to run this country, times that by two, and that’s what intellectual property in this country is worth. Now are you getting a sense for how valuable your content truly is?
Given that you are consistently creating killer content that brings in both customers and raving fans; and given that said content is highly valuable intellectual property. Then add in the fact that other small businesses (and some really large ones) will try to steal your stuff and use it for their own benefit; the most logical thing for you to do would be to protect that revenue-generating content, yes? Great! Glad we’re on the same page!
Here are some steps you need to take right now to protect your valuable content:
Register your content with the U.S. Copyright Office.
First, gather up all of the content you have created, and register it! Today almost every business has an online presence, with a website that contains original content including articles, videos, audio recordings, original photography, e-books, e-courses and other digital media. Copyright gives the author of original creative works the exclusive right to display, perform, make copies of, distribute, and prepare derivative works.
Truthfully, you don’t have to register or publish your work to own the copyright in it. Common law copyright protection attaches from the moment it is fixed in a tangible form. You do not have to publish it first, and you don’t have to notify anyone that you are claiming ownership of the copyright of that work. But if you don’t register it, you end up like Stevie B., without much recourse if someone steals it. The benefits of registering your work with far exceed those obtained via common law.
When you federally register your copyright, you obtain the following advantages over common law copyright:
- You create an official government record of your creation and ownership of the work.
- You get to bring a Federal lawsuit. Registration gives you the right to file a claim of copyright infringement in Federal court.
- You get to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in that lawsuit (i.e., mo’ money.)
There are savvy copyright infringers out there, some of whom have an entire business plan based on scooping up other people’s content and using it to drive ad sales and page views on the Internet. If you don’t have your copyright registered in your work, then to them there is really no risk. They know that the chances of them getting sued for statutory damages are gone if you don’t protect your work. So register your creative work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Protect your brand by registering the trademark for your brand elements.
When you choose the name of your business, your blog or your cool video series, you’re choosing a brand that you will invest time and money in, hoping to build it up so that it becomes recognizable to your market. Trademark law gives you legal rights to the unique words, names, symbols, and sounds used to identify and distinguish the goods and services associated with your business in the marketplace.
Just like copyright, you have common law trademark rights as soon as you begin to use the trademark in business, attaching it to the goods or services you’re selling, as long as the trademark is not confusingly similar to, or diluting the value of, someone else’s trademark.
However, similar to copyright, there are various benefits to federal registration of your trademarks that are not available under common law.
- Federal trademark registration solidifies your rights to the mark nationally. Common law trademark rights only give you rights to the mark in the geographic areas where you are actually selling products or services. Without federal registration, you may not have any claims of infringement if a competitor located in another state starts using the trademark.
- Federal trademark registration creates a public record of your ownership of the mark and puts others on notice of your ownership of the mark.
- Federal trademark registration gives you the ability to file a lawsuit for trademark infringement in federal court and to seek higher damages from the infringer, which serves as a big deterrent to would-be infringers.
- Federal registration of your trademarks is an asset that can be sold, licensed, and otherwise used to make deals. Securing the trademarks associated with your brand will increase your company’s value when you want to obtain outside capital or sell your business. It also gives you the ability to license the use of your content, proprietary methods, brand name, and products to others, which expands the reach of your work and makes you more cash. (You could technically do it without the trademark registered, but that’s a very, very bad idea).
The process of registering your Trademark is a lot more complicated than copyright registration. Therefore, we recommend hiring a lawyer to help you navigate the process. The trademark application looks fairly straightforward, but it isn’t. A huge percentage of trademark applications wind up being abandoned because a business owner tried to do it themselves, and then when it got complicated they didn’t know what to do next. Bottom line: It’s worth it to have an experienced lawyer deal with it.
Have proper Terms and Conditions on your site.
Terms and Conditions can cover a wide variety of topics; some examples include your right to use information posted by users on your site, whether and how your intellectual property posted on the site may be used by web visitors, payment terms, warranties and liabilities waived, account management, site security, jurisdiction for any lawsuits arising from their use of your site, and so on.
One of the most important clauses that should be in your Terms and Conditions is limitations on how your intellectual property may be used. This clause provides specific parameters on how the intellectual property you own may be used by website visitors. We know one business owner who allows others to reproduce her blog articles as long as it includes her byline, copyright notice, and a link back to her website. This is a specific term about how her intellectual property can be used. You might also include a license to use content downloaded from your site in a limited manner; for example, if you offer a downloadable plugin or e-book on your site, you might grant a user a license to share complete copies but not to sell it or distribute excerpts.
Police your creative content.
I know that “policing your work” sounds like you have to be on patrol and on the defense, but really, it just means that you have to keep an eye out for infringement. Luckily, there are tools to help you protect your brand and keep others from stealing your content.
Copyscape is a service that searches the web, looking for pages that have copied your content. You can use them now and then, or have them monitor the web daily or weekly. If someone out there is stealing your words, you will know who, when, and where.
Similarly, there are many trademark monitoring tools available online. These services will notify you if anyone is using your brand name or product name, and they can do simple searches that check the Federal trademark register frequently, or more extensive searches that check domain names, state business filings, and websites. If someone tries to register a domain name that conflicts with your mark, or applies for a trademark similar to yours, you will know and can handle it.
Remember that protecting your IP is important because your IP is worth money. If you let infringers use it, that money is going to them instead of you. And if everyone can freely take your content, that reduces your IP’s value in the market.
Furthermore, if you fail to protect your trademark, you can lose your exclusive right to it. In other words, if you let other people use it, you lose it. You don’t have to be a bully about it either. Most of the time, if you politely let someone know they are using your IP without your permission, and you want them to stop, they will. Occasionally, however, you have to take the next step.
Deal with infringers.
There are a lot of different ways that you can address it when someone steals your work. It’s not just about filing a lawsuit. In fact, most of the time that’s the last resort. Many small businesses can’t afford the time and energy a lawsuit requires anyway. Here are are other methods to deal with the problem and hopefully avoid court:
- Contact the infringer and ask them to stop. Sometimes people don’t realize they can’t use whatever they find online in whatever manner they wish, and some people think it’s ok as long as they say they don’t own it (they can’t and it isn’t.)
- File a DMCA Takedown Notice. This is a simple letter, but it has some specific requirements to be effective under the law. A DMCA Takedown Notice gives notice of your rights and allows you to ask a website to take the infringing website down. Here is a step-by-step video that shows you how to draft and send a DMCA Takedown Notice.
- Another option is blacklisting on Google. We all rely on Google to get our business, including the company stealing your content. How much would it hurt to not show up in Google rankings? Well, you can do that. You don’t have to hire a lawyer for it either. It’s a simple form on Google’s website and they are required by law to take down infringing content.
If your attempts at self-help aren’t getting you anywhere, you can escalate by getting an attorney involved:
- Hire an attorney lawyer to send a Cease and Desist letter. This probably costs less than you think, there are plenty of attorneys who will send a letter for a reasonable flat fee. I have to say, I’ve sent many of these letters, and 90% of the time, the infringer says, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.” They take it down.
- For stubborn infringers who have to learn the hard way, you might have to file a Complaint. Just know that 95% of lawsuits do not wind up being decided by a judge. They wind up getting settled. Sometimes you need to file a Complaint just to get an infringer to recognize they need to settle this matter.
Now you understand exactly how valuable the content you are creating truly is. Follow the steps laid out here to protect this valuable intellectual property and you will increase the value of your business, open your business up to new opportunities and ward off would-be infringers.