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Protecting Your Online Content

Protecting Your Online Content Columbus, OH

The Copyright Office has a new registration option for what it is calling “short online literary works,” which includes blog posts, social media posts, and other short online articles. If your business provides content via the Internet, should you be using this new registration option to protect your work? What about online courses, podcasts, and other content?

Quick Recap of Copyright Law

If you need a refresher, copyright law is the branch of intellectual property law that protects what the law calls “original works of authorship.” When someone (called the “author” no matter what type of content we’re dealing with) creates a new work in a tangible format (on paper, electronically, recorded sound/film, etc.), that author is entitled to a bundle of rights we refer to as their “copyright.” Registering that copyright with the Copyright Office is the only way to enforce those rights.

Generally, each work must be registered separately, which means paying a fee to the copyright office each time you create a new piece of content. While the Copyright Office’s fees vary, at a cost of at least $45 per application (let alone potential legal fees), most entrepreneurs are not going to register every blog post, website article, social media post, etc. And while a group registration option has already existed, it is generally limited to groups of unpublished content. (I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have time to run my business and prepare 50 articles or blog posts before publishing any of them.)

With so much content being created and published on the internet, it’s easy to see the need to protect that content, and your rights as the author or copyright owner. Hence, the new registration option.

Short Online Literary Works

The new Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works makes registering your copyright for some of your online content significantly more cost effective than if you had to register each blog post, for instance, separately. A short online literary work is any work containing between 50 and 17,500 words that is first published as part of a website or online platform. Rather than registering each work individually, this option allows you to register up to 50 such works at one time, saving as much as $3,185 in Copyright Office fees alone.

What are the requirements for registering a group of short online literary works?

In addition to the word count and making sure the works are first published online, there are a few other requirements you should be aware of before filing a copyright registration application:

  • All of the works included on the application must be published within 3 calendar months of each other. This is one of the few instances where you can register a group of works after some or all of the works have been published. 
  • The works must be written by the same individual author or co-written by the same joint authors. Remember, if you hire an employee whose job is to create content, then the business or nonprofit are generally considered the “author” for copyright purposes.
  • The author must also be the copyright claimant. Copyright law distinguishes between the person or entity that created the work (the author) and the person or entity that now owns the copyright (the claimant). Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of naming themselves individually as both the author and claimant instead of making sure the business is credited with this valuable intellectual property.
  • Finally, the entire group must be given a name or title.

Exclusions Apply

Unfortunately, the law is never just black and white, and there are some important exceptions to the rules for short online literary works:

  • It doesn’t cover ALL of the content you might be creating for the internet. In fact, the group application is limited to claiming the copyright in the text only. It does not cover any copyright you might have in any audio or video that accompanies the content, and therefore won’t protect podcasts, audiobooks, video, etc.
  • The application cannot be used for works made for hire. This means that if your business is using independent contractors to create content, then you’ll have to decide whether to register each work separately.

Wondering what work is valuable enough to protect? Confused by all of the registration options? Still relying on the myth of the “poor man’s copyright”? Get help from a copyright attorney before you find out someone is infringing your rights.

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