With the explosion of internet-based businesses, blogs, and online courses, has also come additional questions related to copyright laws and protections. Finding someone has lifted your entire blog, course, or article is certainly enough to ruin your morning, if not your week, and it can cause many to feel helpless or unsure of how they can protect their content online.
In general, a copyright protects original works of authorship in a tangible form or the creative expression of an idea in its tangible form. In plain English, this means that copyright laws can protect your original, written content located on your website, your blog, within modules of your online course, or anywhere else you have created a fixed, tangible, original written product.
A key piece of this is that in order to be eligible for copyright protection, there must be something actually written down – copyright laws do not provide protection to things like ideas or concepts. Copyright laws will not only provide you with the right to distribute (sell), display, reproduce, and repurpose this content, but also the rights to decide who else (if anyone) you would like to authorize to use your content.
Do you have to register your work to be afforded copyright protection? Technically, no – you may receive protection by claiming authorship of the work and fixing it in a tangible medium; however, there are advantages to doing so.
First, registration of a work is required in order to file a claim of infringement with the court system. If you find someone has lifted content from your website and is now marketing it as his or her own, having a copyright registration also places a firm time stamp and public record of when you made the claim to own this work, which will likely be before they claimed it was their own, and may make it a bit easier for you to establish you created the content first. Additionally, if your work is registered within three months of publishing the content, you may have the ability to recover additional damages in court should you file a claim against the infringer.
What if someone has written something similar to yours, or taken your ideas and used them in a different way? This is where things may get a bit more questionable. Remember from above – copyright laws only protect that which is written down and does not protect ideas, concepts, or similar non-tangible things. Say, for example, you write a blog post about 10 ways coconut oil can benefit your skin. You would have a claim over the words you wrote, which would include your sentences, how you wrote it, the opinions you made in the article, etc. However, you would not have a claim over the concept or idea of writing about the health benefits of coconut oil in general.
The difference would be whether someone lifted your exact words versus just your idea or concept. The concept behind the law (if anyone is interested, haha) is that the laws do not want to limit creative, artistic expression, or prevent people from being able to write about certain topics just because someone else has. (With over 7 billion people in the world, how many articles do you think there are on coconut oil?? Probably a lot.) This is why protections are limited to your expressions of the idea or concept only. Your words, not your ideas.
Disclaimer: this is purely legal information, and not to be construed as legal advice or creation of an attorney-client relationship, nor should it take the place of your decision to consult with a lawyer regarding your personal business or situation.