If you’re doing it right, your digital media business is probably an intellectual property factory.
Smart small businesses have a content creation conveyor belt and publish new content all day everyday, from ebooks to infographics.
And while there is a lot of talk about the benefits of creating content, there is very little talk about protecting it.
Yeah, I said it. Your content needs protection.
Because your content is intellectual property, otherwise known as original creative works used in commerce.
Your content needs protectin’
Have you left your most valuable business asset flapping in the wind?
Being an insanely talented content marketer comes with responsibility — the legal kind.
I know, I know. The legal stuff is not sexy at all. It’s the opposite of sexy. It’s tedious.
But you know what is sexy? Covering your ass.
With that in mind, here are four common legal mistakes content marketers make and how you can avoid them, protect your valuable content, and make it rain, baby!
Mistake #1: Not copyrighting your content
Many content marketers believe that having their work stolen is inevitable, so what’s the point of registering your copyright, right?
This is a big mistake — one that will cost you thousands if you don’t stand up for what’s yours and protect your assets.
I know what you’re thinking: You automatically have common law copyright for all of your content.
That’s true, but if you don’t register the copyright for your creative work, you end up without much recourse if someone steals it.
The benefits of registering the copyright for your content exceed the benefits obtained via common law copyright.
When you federally register your copyright, you obtain the following advantages over common law copyright:
- You alert the world that you are the creator and owner of the work, which makes it hard for infringers to claim they didn’t know the work was yours.
- You obtain the right 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 — the infringer has to pay all of your lawsuit costs.
- You have an easy and official way to sell your ownership of the work.
How to avoid this mistake
Register the copyright for all of your prized content — namely, your work that makes you the most money, like your online courses, self-published books, and award-winning copy.
Registration is fairly easy and inexpensive. You don’t even need an attorney. You can register online by submitting some basic information and uploading a copy of the content to the U.S. Copyright Office website.
The fee is either $35 or $55, depending on what you register. You can also register multiple pieces of content at once, such as all of the articles you’ve posted on your blog since 1998, or the epic writing course you launched last year.
Mistake #2: Not posting terms and conditions on your website
Your website is your storefront. However, if you are going to put your crème de la crème content online, then you’ve got to set the terms for how your work can be used.
Most content marketers don’t say a damn thing on their websites about how one might go about licensing their work or whether folks have permission to use their content in any limited ways.
You can’t expect people to just know the rules. Most don’t, but many will follow them if you take the time to educate them.
How to avoid this mistake
You should have an agreement to govern your relationship with your website visitors, subscribers, and customers.
This is a great way for you to communicate your policies to would-be-infringers who just don’t know any better, and folks who are interested in purchasing or licensing your work.
- 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 users
- Payment terms
- Warranties and disclaimers
- Account management
- Site security and jurisdiction for any lawsuits arising from their use of your site
Mistake #3: Failing to use technology to police your work
Many content marketers lament over the rampant stealing that happens in our industry, but few put the time and energy into using technology to protect and police their work.
If it’s easy to steal from you, what deterrent do people really have to stop doing it?
Rather than just letting people get away with misappropriating your content, develop a “Mama (or Papa) is not having it” strategy for policing your work.
It does not have to be incredibly time-consuming or aggravating. Use technology to help you avoid being taken advantage of, and start feeling empowered to protect your creative work and your profits.
How to avoid this mistake
Start with the steps above, including registering the copyright for your content and educating people on how they can and cannot use your work in the terms and conditions on your website.
Consider these additional steps:
- Prevent right-clicking on your content (to make it more difficult to grab)
- Make it a priority to manage your site’s security (so content behind pay walls remain secure)
- Incorporate high-quality design into your work (making it harder to replicate)
And be sure to post copyright notices on all of your works to increase the amount of money you can win in a lawsuit or settlement against an infringer.
Someone already steal from you? You’ve got plenty of options for handling infringers, including:
- Issuing Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to an infringer’s host
- Blacklisting infringers on Google
- Sending a cease and desist letter
- Filing a lawsuit (as a last resort)
Mistake #4: Not having a solid contract with your clients, contractors, and partners
This is an epidemic.
A lot of business owners — not just content marketers — do business without any contracts at all. Which is a terrible way to do business.
The whole purpose of a contract is to prevent disputes by making sure that all parties to the agreement understand exactly what is going to happen, what is going to be exchanged (services, products, cash), and what happens if things don’t go according to plan (cancellation terms).
For content marketers, because your intellectual property can be so easily stolen, it’s imperative that you have clear terms for how your content can and cannot be used by your clients and business partners.
Are your clients and partners purchasing all rights to the content or just a limited license to use the content?
Even more importantly, when you hire someone to create content on your behalf, you must make sure you’ve got clear terms in your contract that pass all ownership in the resulting intellectual property to your business. Otherwise, you can wind up in a situation where you have paid for the creation of content you don’t own.
And don’t forget the boilerplate, which is all of the legal language you see at the end of an agreement. It may seem really monotonous and irrelevant, but it is super important.
If you ever have a problem that escalates into a full-blown dispute, that boilerplate protects you and can save the day.
How to avoid this mistake
Have proper contracts in place between your business and your clients and partners.
The contracts should outline terms covering the rights to the content that the client purchases, the terms of the partner’s license to use your work, cancellation clauses, payment terms, and all that beautiful boilerplate that is sure to save your ass one day.
Get your legal ducks in a row
Whatever your business goal is, having a legal foundation in place is essential to both protect your assets and put you in a position to profit from your creative works and the business that you are building.
Don’t risk losing some or all of your hard work, creativity, and profits. Your content deserves better than that.
What steps do you take to protect your content?
Let us know over on LinkedIn …
Editor’s note: For more important copyright best practices for content marketers, make sure to check out Mark Trenner’s article, What You Don’t Know About Copyright Can Hurt You.