Does your business run and maintain a website? Does it create or license website or other content? Does it run and implement software? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, but haven’t yet considered the importance of copyright to your business, here are 10 tips to ring in a safe and proactive 2017.

  1. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) imposes strict piracy “anti-circumvention” measures meant to protect copyright holders from copyright infringement on the internet. But because the DMCA captures an otherwise large swath of internet service providers who do not have control over what content is posted to or distributed from their websites, the DMCA has a “safe harbor” provision that protects service providers from incurring legal liability in copyright infringement actions. If you qualify for the DMCA Safe Harbor, you must register your company as a Designated Agent for Service of Process at the Copyright Office to benefit from the Safe Harbor protections. To learn more about the DMCA, read this recent white paper.
  2. Unsure how copyright applies to your business? Continue your own copyright education and task someone within your company to keep abreast of the latest developments in copyright protection and compliance.
  3. Develop a written copyright policy or copyright guidelines. Have the same copyright questions arisen again and again in your organization? Year end is an ideal time to compile nagging questions and prepare short practical answers. Circulate copyright Q&As to your colleagues or post them to your intranet site. Having a copyright knowledge database may help your organization better comply with copyright laws, and help you identify how you can improve or update your policies or guidelines.
  4. Do you create content that you distribute to the public? Your content may be a “work” that qualifies for copyright protection. Although copyright registration is voluntary in most countries, consider registering your works with your country’s copyright office. Rather than registering individual works, register a group or collection of works produced during the year to save time and registration fees. While the grant of copyright arises automatically, copyright registration is necessary if you plan to enforce your rights through legal action.
  5. Have you licensed content outside of your organization? Prepare a database of all content your organization has licensed. Whether it’s an image to use on a promotional brochure, or content from a large electronic database, include all content in a single searchable database that allows you to quickly and easily locate that content and determine what rights you have in it.
  6. Review your license agreements and create an “ultimate” list of protections and guarantees that your organization needs from its license agreements. Do you need remote access or the right to share a PDF file? Do you need to make print-outs, or post articles to your intranet? What about using portions of the database for internal education or external seminars? Use the list to set the parameters for your future license negotiations.
  7. Consider your 2017 budget for permissions, licenses and copyright training. Consult with subject matter experts in your organization to understand their needs and preferences. Prepare a budget and ensure you have the funds you need to meet your copyright management goals. Brainstorm how to get the copyright message to your colleagues and employees. Often, recurring lunches or coffee chats with a diverse group of internal stakeholders and speakers from photography, library services, web design or other professional disciplines with copyright expertise can help sensitize your office to important copyright issues without overburdening your team with cold policy documents or rote lectures.
  8. Review your agreements with consultants. Does your company expect to retain copyright ownership in consulting reports? Make sure that this is clearly stated in your agreement and, if necessary, provide for an assignment of rights to your organization. If consultants own their works, review the rights your organization retains in any consultant work. If you are a consultant, review and understand the rights you have in your work.
  9. Undergo an intellectual property (IP) audit. It’s important to know that the content and computer software you are using is legal and properly licensed. Also, an IP audit will identify the IP that you own. Armed with that knowledge, you can then learn how to market, license and/or profit from leveraging your IP.
  10. Set up a mechanism for monitoring the legal use of your own online content on an international basis. This can be as simple as regularly undertaking search engine searches. But you can also hire a professional who specializes in finding unauthorized uses of content. Piracy is not only the domain of the software and entertainment industries. You may be surprised to find that your individual or organization’s rights are being exploited, and that your works are being used and perhaps even sold without your permission.

Copyright is a value-add opportunity for every business, and the best benefits are obtained by acting proactively to ascertain ownership and keep the copyright assets in ready order for offensive or defensive play.