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Copyrights for Business

What's a Business Copyright?
What's a Business Copyright?

This article is a companion to our podcast – Your Business Ally™. Please check out the Coders, Consultants and Content episode, and companion post - Copyright Licensing for Software Coders and Consultants.

What is a Copyright?

Formally, a copyright is an original, creative work in a fixed medium. In more pragmatic terms, there are two key types, creative copyrights and business copyrights.

  • Creative copyrights are things like songs, movies, videos, photos, and artwork.

  • Business copyrights include software programs, online courses, training materials, website content, and architectural designs.

We'll include examples of both creative and business copyrights in this article, but for your revenue purposes, give some thought to how you might focus on your valuable business copyrights.

Copyright Does Not Protect Ideas

Copyrights must be memorialized in a “fixed format”. For example, if you sit down at a piano and play a beautiful song as the notes come to you, that piece of music is not protected by copyright. However, if you play that same song, and record it on your smartphone, then it is protected by copyright immediately because now it's in a fixed format. That is an example of a creative copyright.

Here's one from a business context. Let's say you're a consultant providing training. You extemporaneously deliver the most brilliant presentation of all time, based on years of accumulated knowledge. Your audience is wowed. They go on to make millions from your teaching. Do you own the copyright in your training? No, not quite. But, let's fix that.

If you're not delivering a highly confidential training, get permission and record it. Also, save your leave-behind resources in PowerPoint. Once you've digitally preserved the teaching materials and recorded your live training, you've created copyrights. They’re intellectual property assets that you can license - whether to that client or others - to generate additional revenue.

Here's an Assure ™ Action. When distributing training materials and leave-behind resources, include a copyright statement at the bottom of the first page or each page, especially if it's digital. A simple line with ©, the year, and the name of your company followed by the phrase “All Rights Reserved.” That'll do it!

Now you understand what it means to preserve your work in a fixed medium. It's as simple as writing the content on your computer, or pressing record on your smartphone. The other important element to protecting a copyright is that it must be an original work. That means you created it. In fact, it actually doesn't matter if someone created the same identical thing, as long as you didn't have access to their work.

What’s the Difference? Copyrights, Trademarks, Trade Secrets & Patents

Intellectual Property (“IP”) includes copyrights, trademarks, trade dress, trade secrets, and patents. Here’s a quick primer.

A trademark is a word, sound, color, symbol or combination of them that distinguishes one product or service from another. Think Nike. The word Nike, Just Do It, and the Swoosh symbol are all trademarks. Nike is the brand name; Just Do It is the slogan; and, the Swoosh symbol is a logo.

Trade dress protects the look and feel that distinguishes your product or service. That can include things like packaging, architecture, or the atmosphere of a place. Consider the Tiffany blue box. I don't know about you, but I immediately know something good is inside those little blue boxes!

A trade secret is confidential information that provides a competitive business advantage because you take steps to keep it a secret. Good examples are the KFC recipe, the Coca-Cola formula, and the Google search algorithm. Trade secrets can also be information like your customer list, pricing strategies, and expert know-how.

Finally, patents protect inventions like the light bulb, pharmaceutical drugs, and similar novel innovations.

The Copyright “Bundle” of Rights ... + Beyoncé

Copyright owners have certain exclusive rights. In fact, they're called a “bundle of rights” that include the rights to copy, perform, display, distribute, and make derivative works. I know that's a mouthful, but we'll break it down with an example. More particularly, a licensing example.

Ever heard of a little artist named Beyoncé? Word on the street is that she writes lots of her own songs. Let's say she alone writes a song's lyrics. She then exclusively owns the copyright in it.

Turns out she can sing too! When she performs a song using the lyrics that she wrote, and video records that performance, the recording is called a “derivative work”. This is because she turned lyrics of a song into a new creation - on video.

Once, she even sang her songs at an event called Coachella. Estimates are that she was paid somewhere between $3 to $4 million for those performances. But do you know what? She negotiated the rights to the video recording of her Coachella performance. That video was called "Homecoming," and she licensed those rights to Netflix for a cool $20 million.

To recap, Beyoncé wrote songs, performed them at Coachella, created a derivative work with the "Homecoming" video, then distributed it under license to Netflix, making a fine set of coin along the way.

Each of those stages reflect the bundle of copyrights that we mentioned before. And my friends, that's the beauty of being a copyright owner with licensing rights.

You might be thinking, that's great Jo, but my Beyoncé-level creative talents haven't quite yet been discovered. No problem. Next, we'll talk about licensing business copyrights, which you do have. Specifically, business copyrights for Coders and Consultants.

Quick Recap

  • We learned that copyrights are creative works in a fixed medium. That means that ideas are not protected under copyright law, but written, recorded, and digital content are.

  • We covered the differences between types of intellectual property including copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents.

  • We highlighted how Derivative Works capitalize on the "bundle of rights" under copyright law to generate new income streams … through appropriate homage to Beyoncé’s business savvy. All hail Queen Bey!

Here's an Assure ™ Action.

Consider how you're delivering code or distributing consulting expertise today. Take a moment to strategize new licensing and delivery models to capitalize on your bundle of rights.

Need some help? Let’s collaborate!

We help 7 and 8 figure companies build recurring revenue through licensing successful brands, software, expertise, and business content. Our Assure Architectstrategy framework identifies what to license, highlights target customers, develops pricing models, and establishes a go-to market sales plan. It's easy to get started. Reach out to us via our website. Or, connect with me, JoAnn Holmes, directly on LinkedIn.

Thanks for sharing the podcast, and for your kind ratings and reviews. If you haven't yet, please subscribe in your podcast app right now, so you don't miss any other great content from Your Business Ally™.

We always appreciate your support, Allies. Until next time, Set Your Agenda, and Here's to Your Success!


JoAnn Holmes ("Jo") is the founder of HOLMES@LAW. The firm helps innovative midsize companies grow recurring intellectual property revenue, negotiate successful business contracts, and implement profitable legal strategy. Learn more about our Assure™ strategy services to monetize IP, establish a sound legal foundation, and streamline smart business decisions. Our Business Ally™ contract subscriptions help clients stop leaving money on the table, and protect your bottom line.

Holmes, How … about the Disclaimers?

Information shared by JoAnn Holmes and/or HOLMES@LAW, LLC ("We or Us") is for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice. Each situation is unique, so the information We share may not be relevant to your circumstance. Until you enter a formal engagement agreement with Us, We are not your legal counsel, and no attorney-client relationship exists. So, please do not share any confidential information with Us, and please only interact with Us if you agree to these ground rules. Thanks!

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