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Bless our hearts as Edmund Burke quoted: The only thing necessary for the triump of evil is for good men(and women) to...

Protecting Your Creative Investments

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Nancy Ray

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By Nancy Ray

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Most people think of investment as a purely monetary topic. Stocks, bonds, real estate, and other ways to invest money are endlessly discussed and debated in our society.

What if you are a different kind of investor? Instead of investing money, perhaps you invest your creative skills, time, and energy. If you look at investment from this perspective, some of the most prolific and successful investors you may know are people who are artists, musicians, photographers, crafters, and writers.

If you are a “creative investor” of this kind, how do you protect your investment? The answer may be easier than ever, and is just a few clicks away at the United States Copyright Office, located at www.copyright.gov.

Your creative efforts are protected by copyright from the moment that you “fix them in tangible form,” or create them. The key to guarding this potentially valuable intellectual property, however, is actually registering your work with the US Copyright Office.

Many people think of copyright as pertaining only to books and songs. However, federal copyright law protects literary works, works of the performing arts, visual arts, photography, motion pictures, and other digital material. You can copyright everything from choreography to fabric art to maps to manuscripts. The process of protecting your work is now simple and can be completed online with just a few clicks and a little bit of typing.

Unless you would prefer to complete a paper application and mail it, you can log into the eCO registration system on the Copyright Office website. As part of the application, you will answer basic questions about the work, its creation, and your identity, and you will provide a copy of the work. You will then be asked to certify that the information that you have provided is correct and will be warned as to possible fines that may be imposed if you make a false representation of fact in your application.

After you pay the online filing fee, which typically ranges from $35-55, then your application is complete. Your application will be processed by the office, which takes six months on average for an online application filed with no further correspondence. Applications submitted by mail with additional correspondence take twenty months on average, so your application will be processed much more quickly if it is submitted online. Once your application is approved, you will receive a certificate of registration.

Making your claim to your work through this process has several advantages, especially if you choose to publish the work. If your register the work within five years of publication, then your registration is considered prima facie evidence that the work is yours. If you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of your copyright, registration may also be required to prove that the work belongs to you.

Your U.S. copyright registration may also form the basis for registration of your work in other countries. Once your work is registered, it is listed in the online Public Catalog maintained by the Copyright Office, so that your ownership of the work is public information.

If you have further questions about copyright and the registration process, please visit the Copyright Office webpage. It is a wonderful source of information about an area of law that is relevant to many people, yet virtually unknown.

If you are interested in seeking legal counsel about a copyright issue, you may wish to consult the North Carolina Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service. The Lawyer Referral Service, located online at www.NCFindALawyer.org or accessible by phone at 800-662-7660, does provide a way to contact attorneys who focus their practice in intellectual property matters. Don’t be shy about protecting your time, creativity, and effort — every investment matters!

Nancy Ray is an instructor in the Department of Finance at ECU.

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