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Protecting a Content-Based Business, Part I: 3 Prerequisites for Copyright Protection

You really should know the prerequisites for copyright protection in the US.

But first, let’s talk about protecting content. A lot of content, like online videos, long form blog posts, micro-blogging, podcast episodes, or some combination of those things. This is a three part series that’s going to break down:

  • The three things you need in order to qualify for copyright protection, (which you’ll find here, in part one)
  • How to make sure you own your creative content (part two); and
  • A list of content that’s eligible for copyright protection, some of which you might not have thought of yourself (part three).

But this is part one, the three prerequisites for copyright protection.

Prerequisite for Copyright Protection, #1: If you want to protect content, it’s gotta be creative.

This doesn’t just mean that it needs to be a work of art, a musical composition, a video, or something that you traditionally think of as creative. It means that your content can’t just be a fact, a mere list of ingredients, a mere idea. It has to be creative. The content should be something that’s the product of “the sweat of your brow.” You’ve worked to create this thing somehow.

You might look at some creative works and think the bar to creativity might be pretty low. You’re right. There’s not a huge bar to creativity. But it does have to be creative.

A theory, a process, an idea: these things are not creative enough to satisfy this prerequisite for copyright protection in the US. But if you have a group of facts that you’ve creatively arranged, that creative arrangement is protectable.

If you’re protecting content via copyright, it has to be tangible.

Now that we’ve gotten the creativity part out of the way, thing two is that it has to be tangible. Not tangible in that you have to actually be able to grab it and touch it. Tangible in that it lives outside of your head. It is either on paper, it is recorded, it is somehow accessible by someone else.

You’ve gotta own it.

The third thing is that it is actually original to you. Now, it can be something that you’ve collaborated with someone else on. Maybe you paid a contractor to contribute creative work. (And, hopefully, they signed a contract.) Or, you have collaborated with someone else and you both own it. Either way, it has to be an original creative work. I will talk a little bit more about originality in part two, but it should be original — as in original to you or owned by you.

So those are the three things: creative, tangible, original. Hope this helps you understand the three prerequisites for copyright protection, and I will see you in the next part of this series.