The Seinfeld episode where Kramer “invents” a fragrance is a good example of copyright gone wrong:
Kramer: THE BEACH!!! You smell like the beach. What’s the name of that perfume you’re wearing?
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Tia: It’s Ocean by Calvin Klein.
Kramer: CALVIN KLEIN!? No, no. That’s my idea. They, they stole my idea. Y’ see I had the idea of a cologne that makes you smell like you just came from the beach … What is going on here?! He laughs at me then he steals my idea. I could have been a millionaire. I could have been a fragrance millionaire, Jerry!
Kramer was on the right track – he just didn’t take it quite far enough. Although you can’t copyright an idea, you can copyright an idea that has been developed.
So if Kramer had worked on the cologne’s formula and maybe had a trial batch made, that would constitute a ‘work’. You have automatic copyright protection when you first develop a ‘work’. Then if you go one step further and register your copyright, you’re in an even better position.
What is copyright?
Copyright is an automatic protection in Australia for the owner of a ‘work’. A ‘work’ may be in the form of text, an image, music composition or recording, software code, a film, etc.
Copyright is an immediate right granted to the owner upon creation and you don’t have to register your right or ‘work’, in order to have the protection. The owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to control how and where their ‘work’ is used and may also sell these rights.
Will registering my copyright protect me?
Copyright ownership and rights are free. But for further protection, you can register things such as designs, innovations, artwork, music, pictures, etc., with IP Australia (http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/).
By registering copyrighted ‘work’ you protect yourself from someone else claiming it was their ‘work’ first. Registration, in most circumstances, provides priority to the registrant and unless the other person had objected during the application process, they will have a difficult time asserting that it was their ‘work’. So it’s a good idea to register your valuable ‘work’, to protect it.
Does copyright apply to the internet?
Absolutely, it does. If you copy someone’s ‘work’ and post it on the internet, you’re breaching their copyright. And they have a right to sue you!
This infographic explains the most common myths about copyright and the internet.
The biggest myth is that if something has been posted on the internet, it’s in the “public domain” and copyright protection no longer applies and it can be used freely. This is incorrect and a myth that needs to be corrected.
Most of the time, if you breach copyright by posting something that belongs to another person on the internet, that person will ask you to remove it. But if you have reproduced it on a garment, on stationery or on something that you are selling or using to make money, the owner can ask you for all revenue received and ensure you don’t use it again.
So when can you use someone’s copyrighted material?
There are a few exceptions where the use of copyrighted material is allowed:
- Fair dealing: This means you are able to use it without asking permission from the owner where the work is being used for research or when you are writing a critique or review. But you must always acknowledge the owner.
- Statutory licence: The government and educational institutions can use copyrighted work without the owner’s permission; however, the owner can claim ‘fair’ payment for the work.
- Express permission: This is where you have been granted specific permission to re-use the ‘work’ from the copyright owner, for an agreed purpose. In this case, get permission in writing or by email.
- Creative Commons License: Copyright owners can offer a global license to give people permission to use their material at no cost.
What can you do if someone infringes your copyright?
What if you see your image, photo, article, design, etc. being used by someone else, a company or a website? First, contact them and ask them to remove the offending material. Sometimes they don’t realise it belongs to another person or they thought they wouldn’t get caught!
If it’s a website and they ignore your request, you can go to the domain host and make a formal request to have the material removed, or even request the site be closed down! You should provide evidence that you have already contacted the website owner directly. In general, domain hosting companies do not want to be seen permitting any illegal activity, so they normally have a process to follow to have your copyrighted work removed.
If, after your request for removal, the individual, company or website still does nothing, you should issue them with a formal Copyright Infringement Notice. In some instances, you can also request payment for fees and any revenue received by the person infringing your copyright.
… And be proactive
Unfortunately you cannot avoid people ignoring copyright rules and using your work for their own benefit. The internet and connected world is growing so fast the regulations can keep up!
So you need to keep track of your work and register it where you can to ensure the maximum protection. Posting clear copyright notices and terms on your work and website may also deter infringers from ‘stealing’ your material. If you sell your work, ensure that all copyright notices and ownership of the work is clearly marked and noted.
And make sure you know the rules, so you don’t breach anyone else’s copyright!