First of all, if you need to catch up on what a copyright is, and how it’s different than a trademark, click here.
Now that that’s settled, do you need a copyright? I should be more specific… do you need a copyright registration? Because as you learned in the above article^ that you totally read (I’m dramatically winking at you), you already have a copyright in your original work. Regardless, when is it time to register your work, because hey- that costs money! Something many of us are running short on when we first start a business. Take a peek and see if any of this applies to you. If it does, I have a real treat for you at the end of this article!
Here are five signs that scream it’s time for a registration:
1. Your work is getting copied.
Congratulations- your work is now visible, and others are taking notice. Maybe it’s your style, your panache or your color palette. Any way you slice it, you’re noticing copycats and look-alikes everywhere. You have now entered the copyright twilight zone, where it’s your responsibility to take extra steps to cover ‘yer booty from all the looty looty (<totally a phrase in Black’s Law Dictionary). Ideas are never protected under copyright law, so if you had the idea to create a painting with flowers, sorry, you’re out of luck if someone else paints some flowers. But if you had an idea to create a navy painting with orange flowers positioned in the upper right-hand corner of the frame with a distinctive green swirl of leaves, when someone else creates an eerily similar or the same work, for example, by selling a photo of your painting, you will have enhanced rights to ask them to stop selling their knock-off of your work, and even better for you, entitlement to money as a result of their use of your work.
2. Your work is being used without your permission.
We see it everyday in Facebook groups-- upset, frustrated and even scared creators asking “What do I do?!” next to a picture of their photograph on a billboard, or a sample of their design next to a screenshot from Alibaba. If others are already using your work without permission, even if it’s flattering (SMP anyone?), it’s time to think about registering your work. If you’re getting noticed, YOU’RE GETTING NOTICED. And you have no idea when your work will show up on an unwelcome phone case, billboard or magazine ad, but when it does, don’t you want to have the power to shut down the copycat?
3. You have a real business.
This isn’t just a thing you’re dreaming about-- some of the unicorns are starting to disappear and things are turning into real life. You may still wonder where your next client is going to come from, but you at least know that the clients will come. You’re carving out a niche on the map for yourself, and earning income even if you’re not quite profitable yet. Or, you’re killing it, but you have completely neglected the legal side of your biz because it just seemed too boring or scary. If either (or both) of these sound like you, then welcome to the copyright registration train my friend.
4. You understand the value of your work.
This isn’t amateur hour- you may not be Jose Villa yet but dang, you’re so much better than you were six months ago! While your craft and your business is growing, so is the value of the work you produce and if it’s stolen, you deserve to get paid for it.
5. You’re a professional.
This is your profession. Maybe you’re not working at it full-time- it’s still a side-hustle or maybe Mom is your full-time job and this is your passion, but when you’re on, you're on because this is a business to you. This isn’t just some hobby that you’re poking around in- you take it seriously regardless of whether you devote four or forty hours a week to your craft. And when someone uses your work, you know you deserve to be paid for it.
If one (or more) of these five points struck a chord with you- an “oh wow… that’s me…” kind-of chord, it’s time for you to think about registering your work-- all of it! Hint: even if you’re not 100% to this point in your biz, it’s better to be prepared than surprised!