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Copyright law is an important part of international trade that must be considered as part of your overall business, if you’re product includes any sort of design. This could be a graphic design printed on a t shirt, to an entirely new product or improvement to a current product.
Either way, you will want to protect your intellectual property so others won’t steal it. We’re all too familiar with the various fake handbags and wallets that are sold in places and copyright theft is unfortunately a problem on the internet.
It’s far too easy for others to right click on your product, trace your t shirt design and start selling your product as a competitor. We’ve recently had a call from a lady where this exact situation happened to her. She had created a unique design for a Christmas sweater, produced these sweaters, selling them on Ali Express and a competitor simply stole the design and made replicas and was selling them for less!
Intellectual Property Rights
Firstly, let’s begin with explaining how intellectual property rights work as there are a few options depending on what you want to protect. These include a patent, a trademark and copyright itself.
Patents are generally for physically products that are brought to market in order to stop others copying that product. For example, when James Dyson invented the bagless cyclone vacuum or when Apple invented the iPhone, patents were filed before their products were released.
Patents need to be registered with the government and it’s a lengthy and complicated process. You’ll have to explain exactly what your product does and what makes it unique. Make sure you’re able to describe what part of the product you patenting and protecting and why it’s different from anything else already on the market.
Using the example of Dyson, they weren’t patenting the idea of a vacuum itself, obviously this is not unique, they were protecting the idea of a vacuum without a bag and their “cyclone” technology which they claim would mean that there would never be a loss of suction from the vacuum.
If you’re going to launch a physical product to market you must ensure you have a patent to protect yourself. You’ll likely need a patent lawyer to help you with the process which as you can probably guess, won’t come cheap but will be well worth it when you’re product is selling around the world.
Copyright refers to anything that’s creative but not a physical product (like Dyson). This can include:
- Graphic Designs
- Artistic Works
When it comes to exporting products it’s generally a graphic design that you want to protect, something that’s perhaps printed on on a product or clothing, these are the most common.
There are various international copyright treaties but in simple, non-legal speak, copyright is an automatic right, once the owner or author of the work has deemed content “finished”. You don’t have to do anything and there is no government copyright office (except for in the United States) where you can register your work.
If you’re interested in more of the legal side, in 1996 there was a special agreement made under the Berne Convention known as the WIPO Copyright Treaty that deals with works in a digital environment.
The advantage to this is obviously that worldwide copyright laws are simple and once you’ve completed your design, you don’t have any legal hassle of needing to register it anywhere. You just need to be able to prove that you finished your work on that date…which is where the problem also lies.
Let’s take for example, the new graphic design you’ve just created for your t shirt on your computer. You save the file and the time and date is recorded. The problem with this is, it’s actually possible to change times and dates on computer files so this isn’t solid proof.
Also, if you ever open, edit and save the file, the new time will be saved, overwriting the original time stamp. These is where it gets a little bit messy.
Poor Man’s Copyright
There was a time when creatives used to take their work and put it in an envelope and send it in the mail, back to themselves. The date stamp on the envelope would then serve as proof for the work being created at that point in time.
The problem with this, was that you would have to keep these envelopes perhaps forever, if you lost them, you could find yourself in some trouble later. There’s also the added problem that if you had to open the envelope to prove the originality of your work, once the envelope was opened, it couldn’t be used it again. What if there were multiple copyright infringements on your work?
Protect My Work
With the digital age, this process of protecting your work has become easier. A copyright protection service like ProtectMyWork.com makes this quick and all your work is held securely in one place.
Protect My Work was actually setup by designers who found their work being stolen and wanted to help stop this as it’s all too common for creative people.
The system is really easy to use:
- Register an account for £33 per year
- Find your password in the welcome email and sign in
- Click on the “Upload New Work” button
- Enter a title for your work
- Attach your file(s) and submit
That’s it, you’ll actually receive an email immediately with a unique reference number for the work, which you can add to anywhere you may advertise your product, which acts as a great deterrent.
The following is an example of a global copyright notice you can place on the web or any other relevant places:
© Copyright 2018. All Rights Reserved. Protected with ProtectMyWork.com registration number XXXXXXX
Lastly, a nice touch is that you can add up to 5 files in one upload. The reason for this is if your graphic design went through perhaps three or four revisions, you could attach all the versions as well as the final, which would be quite compelling evidence, should you need to ever prove your concept from start to finish.
You can add as much work as you want to your account with Protect My Work, you just buy tokens for £1 each, pay-as-you-go. You get 5 free when you join, so all your work can be held in the same digital vault making international copyright registration pretty easy.
Trademark is a different protection again in that it protects your company brand. With trademarks, you can protect a name, a slogan and/or a logo.
Trademarks are filed with each country’s government and as far as names go, there are rules, you can’t register just anything.
In the UK there’s a filing fee of £170 for the first trademark and £50 for subsequent trademarks made in the same application. The time it takes to process is usually around 2 – 3 months.
For full details on how to register a trademark in the UK have a look at the government website. Be aware that trademarks are filed on a per country basis, there isn’t a way that you can file a “global” trademark in one application. That would be far too easy and convenient.
World intellectual property protection is vital if you are going to start trading internationally. The theft of work online is far too easy and it happens far too regularly I’m sorry to say.
Without any global intellectual property organization to speak of, it’s really worth taking the time and making sure to take steps to protect yourself in the ways you can so your hard work isn’t stolen.
Take the time to research international property law in a particular country that you’re going to trade in as there could also be a different copyright act at that international level.