Whether you know it or not, your business creates intellectual property on a regular basis.
Ad copy, website content, business innovations, trade processes – it's all intellectual property that needs to be protected in order to avoid unauthorized use in the public domain.
There are several vehicles for protecting intellectual property, one of which is a copyright. But a copyright may not be the right vehicle for every situation. A trademark or patent may be a more appropriate protection device. And in some cases, a copyright's effectiveness may be limited by geography or other factors.
A copyright is a legal device that grants exclusive rights to the creator of an original work. It limits the copying, distribution, adaptation, or performance of the work without the copyright holder's permission. Copyrights are secured automatically, at the time of the work's creation. Although it isn't necessary to register your copyright, registration does have some important advantages. However, you should be aware that copyrights are jurisdictional – a copyright registered in the U.S. is not protected overseas, so attention will need to be given to international copyright protection.
When to Register a Copyright
There are no clear rules about when it is appropriate to pursue a formal copyright registration. As a rule of thumb, if you're concerned that a piece of your company's original material (e.g. literature, music, art, etc.) is vulnerable to exploitation in the public domain, it's probably worthwhile to pursue registration. But registration is especially important if the unauthorized use of your work has the potential to seriously damage your business or your business model. So as the stakes go up, so does the need for a registered copyright.
When Not to Register a Copyright
Work that is easily duplicated usually doesn't warrant copyright registration. Run of the mill marketing content, standard web content, and most PR materials aren't worth the time and expense associated with registration. The exception is marketing, web, or PR content that contains proprietary business information or branding content. Since it's important for your business to retain the exclusive rights to this kind of material, consult your legal counsel about the value of a copyright registration.