Copyright protection in the digital world: What you should know

The digital world presents many opportunities for people to share work but also creates situations in which works could be stolen or otherwise illegally used.

When the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in 1998, it strengthened the penalties that occur when someone in Texas infringes on copyrighted works on the Internet. It also put anti-circumvention measures in place to prevent the use of devices that would try to work around copyright protection.

Generally, the law attempts to handle the challenges of digital material and intellectual property rights. People who work in the digital world or publish material online should have an understanding of what is protected and what risks may be present.

What works can be copyrighted?

There is no shortage of items that can have copyright protection. Generally speaking, a copyright applies to artistic and literary works. When focusing on digital pieces, copyright may extend to the following:

  • Computer programs
  • Pictures, blog entries and videos
  • Databases
  • E-books
  • Technical drawings

A website may be copyrighted to protect the original content that exists on it. The name of the site, however, would not be eligible for copyright and would instead have to be trademarked.

Do I need to register my copyright?

In most cases, no, a copyright does not need to be registered. In fact, copyright inherently exists the moment an original work is created. However, if someone's rights are infringed upon, there are more remedies available for people who have registered the copyright. For example, the court could create an injunction that would put a stop to the act of infringement.

Under law, someone who is found guilty of infringing on a copyright may have to pay any damages that the property owner suffered as well as the court costs and attorney fees. Further, it is possible that the defendant would be sentenced to jail.

How does copyright apply to social media?

Each platform, such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, has its own set of terms and conditions to which users must agree when creating an account. In many cases, these platforms will hold a non-exclusive license to any content someone uploads. Users still have rights to the works, but the platform itself may have the right to take the works and use them for its own purposes.

Typically, short posts such as the 140-character blurbs that appear on Twitter would not meet the standards for creativity for copyright protection, though that does not mean that it is impossible.

How should I protect my work online?

Anyone who shares works online can add the copyright symbol to the text, website or item. The symbol should be accompanied by the author's name and the year the work was created.

A more in-depth approach is to use the copyright symbol and create a "terms of use" page that describes how works may be shared. This could state that people may share items through linking back to a website or print works for personal use but not for sale.

The digital world continues to evolve, and intellectual property laws will have to do the same. Anyone who has questions about this topic should speak to an attorney in Texas.