Intellectual Property – Copyright
So what is a copyright — once again I’m going back to the government who grants these rights: http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/doc/general/whatis.htm “Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of ‘original works of authorship’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly. The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.”
Yet another mouthful. But here the advice is much easier to give. You can copyright your website, your technology, your documentation, pretty much anything you develop which has a physical manifestation. So why not do it? “© year, [name of company]. All rights reserved” that’s all you need to put on your material. Now, of course, nothing is ever quite that simple so here are some things to think about: (i) copyright protects “expression” not “ideas” (the “idea” of a web site that allows users to use simple phrases to search the Internet (who could I be referring to) is not protectable; but the “expression” of that idea in the form of the software that drives the website, the way that website looks, feels and functions, these can all be protected under the law of copyright); (ii) you should formally register your copyright with the government for all your “important” copyrightable material (e.g. source code) – this will ensure you an easier time asserting ownership and entitles you to statutory damages if you win your case http://www.copyright.gov/eco/; (iii) your work must be “original” in order to be eligible for protection (you can’t just change a couple of things on someone else’s material and claim it as your own); and (iv) the work must be “creative” – by that I mean not solely utilitarian or functional (e.g. a handbag – but if the handbag looks like an alligator it may be copyrightable) by the way, if it turns out there is really only one logical way to accomplish a task, you can’t copyright that either.
Next installment, Intellectual Property – Trade Secret, and remember, ALWAYS CONSULT AN ATTORNEY FIRST.