Copyright Laws: What Small Business Owner’s Should Know

Small business owners have an endless number of responsibilities. Unvarying focus on payroll, customers, content, employees, and all things of keeping their business successful. It’s not uncommon to be so overrun with these responsibilities, that the laws of copyright are thrown to the side, left unknown.

You’re busy, so copying and pasting paragraphs of another’s company’s blog post to your own would make things much faster. While you’re at it, you might as well take their image to go with your blog, right? Maybe no one will notice.


Unfortunately, this would be an infringement on one of the many rights of copyright law, which could likely be a disaster for your business, whether that be a fine or worse.

Copyright laws are complex but taking the time to learn the ins and outs is well worth your time. In today’s blog, let’s look at some of the many copyright laws that small business owners should be aware of.

What is Copyright Law — What’s Included and What Isn’t

Copyright is a law that protects original works of authorship in a tangible form of expression, but not ideas. There are two forms of work that are protected under copyright law: original works and fixed works.

Original Works:

 According to the Supreme Court, anything that is created independently, without copying, with at least minimal creativity is considered an original works.

Fixed Works:

A work is fixed when it is in a permanent medium (written or recorded), and can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated over an extended period of time.

Original and Fixed Works include:

  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Musical compositions
  • Sound recordings
  • Blog posts
  • Poems
  • Books
  • Movies
  • Computer programs
  • So much more

It does not include:

  • Slogans
  • Titles
  • Names
  • Lettering
  • Coloring
  • Listings
  • Variations of typographic ornamentation
  • Government publications
  • And more

Are You a Copyright Owner?

In short, yes.

If you have ever created a piece of original work and fixed it, you are the owner of the copyright.

You can also be the owner of copyright if your employee, or organization within the scope of employment, is the creator of an original piece. This is a doctrine known as, “works made for hire”, which can also be applied to independent contractor relationships.

Copyright Infringement VS. Plagiarism

While both copyright infringement and plagiarism are the acts of using someone else’s work without their permission, plagiarism is an ethical issue, while copyright infringement is a legal issue.

Plagiarism is easily avoidable. So long as you aren’t trying to pass off someone else’s works as your own and give the author credibility, typically by using quotations marks, you aren’t plagiarizing.

Copyright infringement on the other hand is slightly trickier. While this is another form of copying someone else’s work without their permission, it is only considered copyright infringement when the work is protected under copyright.

Copyright infringement is considered to be theft and a civil crime, and serious legal procedures can take place. While plagiarism is not considered to be a crime, it is not overlooked and will often endure penalties.

How Do I Know If I Can Legally Copy Work?

When it comes to using works that are not your own, there are exceptions, agreements, and limitations to be considered.

You are able to receive permission to use someone else’s work by the owner of that work’s copyright. A situation that is more likely to occur than obtaining permission, is purchasing that work.

There is also a possibility of the copyright expiring. The length of the life span of copyrighted work varies depending on when the work was created. A good rule of thumb for copyrighted work, is the term of the life of the author, plus 70 years.

There is also work on the internet that have never been protected under copyright, or whose copyright has expired, known as the public domain.

Do I Need to Register My Work for it to be Protected Under Copyright?

No. Once original work is fixed, it is automatically protected under copyright, but it’s never a bad idea to take that protection further by registering that work. This is not only beneficial in terms of monetary compensation and attorney fees, but it is also beneficial to the public.

When work is registered to be protected under copyright, it allows the public to easily find information on the owner of the copyrighted material, provides a record, and informs the public that someone is claiming copyright protection.

If you’re looking to register your work for protection under copyright law, feel as though someone has infringed on copyright law regarding your work, or have any questions pertaining to copyright law, please reach out to our firm.

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