Legal Basics for Your startup
1. Define intellectual property and how your business factors in
You may not realize it, but there is actually a lot of laws protecting users and content creators of the Internet. In fact, there is so much information, that we simply could not cover all of it in one day. You will find today to have two parts, and then there will be even more content discusses in Building Your Business: 102. Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, we are simply here to provide information so that you can help understand important concepts in protecting yourself and your business. No matter how thorough we can go, no amount of information can replace a lawyer should you need additional information and specific guidance for your own business.
However, don't worry too much! We will help you feel at least a little more informed and confident moving forward.
Going straight to the source to help you better understand the term intellectual property, we are referencing a page from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
"Creations of the mind" might seem broad but the phrase to actually emphasize is literary and artistic works. This includes any original content you create: a blog, a website, a photograph, a logo, your business name. We can then start discussing trademarks and copyrights straight from here, but let's maybe just not overwhelm all at once.
As the WIPO page we referenced points out, intellectual property is legally protected in a variety of ways -- including (but not exclusively) through the process of trademark, patent, and copyright status. There are certain protections outside of those processes for original works like those mentioned above (blog, website, photograph, etc). The consideration is, however, if your logo and business name are competing with someone else's logo and business name that has gone through the process of trademarking and copywriting. Then they have more of a legal ground than you do.
Copyright & Fair Use
When it comes to websites and bloggers, copyright law applies to original works of "authorship." Modified from the Title 17 of the US Copyright Code in order to focus on what pertains to websites and blogs, authorship includes
- literary works
- musical works
- dramatic works
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- sound recordings
With copyrighted works, you have the exclusive rights to how those works are copied, distributed, adapted, and even how they are performed publicly. These rights last your own lifetime and will be forfeited afterwards.
Fair Use refers to a legal situation when it is allowable for someone to copy or reproduce an original work that they themselves did not author. These situations are described in the Title 17 United States Code as those that are used "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copes for classroom use), scholarship, or research.
There are a few considerations when examining the legality of the fair use doctrine, but what is important to note in terms of your website or blog is: if an original work is being use in a creative context that is serving to educate and it is properly credited to the original and correct author, then copyright has not been violated.
This is a big discussion in the blogging world in particular, especially with the rise of social media. We will discuss this more in BYB102, but proper citation is absolutely necessary 100% of the time. The question is, however, was the author notified for permission to use the work? Sometimes proper citation isn't enough, especially with Pinterest in the game, but other times seeking permission from the author is valuable.