I am not an attorney. Even if I were, this would not constitute legal advice. I am reasonably sure, and have gone and checked myself to make sure I’m giving you good information, but it’s no substitute for talking to your own attorney as needed.
What is a Copyright?
All right, let’s start with the basics. What is a copyright? Copyright is a form of legal protection provided to the creators of original works of authorship. That doesn’t just mean “written” when they use that term, “authorship.” It applies to literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works — both published and unpublished. We’re talking about things like books, articles — those are copyrighted. Music. We’ve heard about copyright in that context since the beginning of the Internet. Also paintings, drawings, and illustrations. Website design. Logo design. These are all protected by copyright.
Let’s clarify some of this though, because copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter itself. For example, a description of an extraction machine in writing would be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying that written description, it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the extraction machine based on your description. If you wanted to legally protect the engineering processes that create the machine, that is a subject of patent law, not copyright.
Also, individual words and short phrases are not covered by copyright. Apeks, DrainDroyd — these are trademarks, these are brands, they cannot be copyrighted. Interestingly though, for example, The Cannabis Marketing Lab logo outside of the trade use does have copyright attached to it for the visual elements of it.
Finally, I want to stress that ideas are not protected, only the expression of the ideas. For example, let’s say I come up with this great new online marketing technique that’s worked for me. I give it a clever name and then I write an article about it and spread it out to the world. Someone out there can take that technique, that idea and make it their own. Write their own article and not give me any credit whatsoever. It’s still not a violation of copyright, because it doesn’t apply to ideas. Now, would the ethical thing to do be to give me credit? Yes. Can you get in trouble with your audience if they notice you’re taking other people’s ideas blatantly? Yes. Remember, what’s legal and what’s right are not always the same thing.
How is Copyright Created?
Next up, let’s talk about how a copyright is created. In the United States, copyright protection automatically extends to any covered material as soon as it is expressed in tangible form, which means as soon as it’s created. For example, I write articles in Google Docs and I transfer the copy over to the post editor and format it in HTML. Both versions are copyrighted, even the unpublished initial draft that no one ever sees but me. Now, you may have heard about copyright registration and think that’s how copyright is created — that’s not true. Again, copyright exists from the moment of creation. Copyright registration increases the legal protection for your work and the likely value of any award you might recover in an infringement suit.
Registration gives you easier and greater right to pursue an infringement claim and you get better damages out of it because you went through the registration process. What does that mean in practical terms? Should you register every article you write for content marketing purposes? No, at least I wouldn’t. Should you register your self-published ebook that you sell? Yes, that is a substantial work, you charge money for it, and it’s part of your business. That would be worth registering.
Ok, so that was Part I of A Crash Course in Copyright (as it relates to marketing) for Cannabis Entrepreneurs. Stay tuned this week as I release all three parts. Next up: What Constitutes Copyright Infringement.