Welcome to 2020, the year when whoever is running the show decided to hand the reigns over to the writers of Days of Our Lives and take a sabbatical. In lieu of the need to trudge through traffic and sitting at the office all day, many of us have taken the time working remotely has given us to explore some of our more creative interests. Everyone these days has a YouTube channel, podcast or an Instagram Live interview series. More of us are writing books, making music and founding companies and that is where intellectual property comes in. Sure, creating can be fun but we need to remember to protect ourselves, especially in a world where ideas can be shared globally at the click of a button. To that end, we caught up with attorney and founder of legal wellness firm, Jennifer Stoler, who gave us a quick crash course in Intellectual Property (IP) 101:
What is IP and why is it important to young creators?
IP law refers to all of the legislation around trademarks, designs, copyright protection and patents. It is important to young creators and creators in general because we have gotten to a point where people are creating and building brands on the internet and in the traditional formats so, it is imperative to be aware of the different IP laws around certain designs and patents. This will not only help people protect their own brands but also to make sure they don’t overstep any boundaries when it comes to other people’s brands.
What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark?
The definition of a trademark is as follows: A trademark is a device name, signature, letter, shape, pattern or configuration, among others, which is used to identify goods and services.
Once a trademark is successfully registered, the use of identical or similar marks in relation to similar goods or services would be an infringement. IP lawyers can advise you on the process of acquiring a trademark and how to go about registering your marks and devices.
Copyrights on the other hand protect the expression of your ideas. This is generally considered to be artistic works which include but are not limited to: literary works, musical works, artistic works, cinematograph films and more.
Copyrights exist automatically upon the creation of the work if it is in the class of work recognised by the Copyright Act. Essentially when you create a work, you can place a copyright label on it and it is protected. Your work therefore does not need to be registered for a copyright, unless it is a film whereby a copyright lawyer can help you register it. You can also visit the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) website.
How do I go about getting one?
If you want to assert your copyright, simply put the © symbol on your work and the phrase “all rights reserved.” Unless it is a film, in which case, you will need to register it — which a lawyer can help you with. To register a trademark it is best to consult a lawyer but you can also register trademarks, patents and designs using the CIPC’s e-services.
If I create something, how do I go about protecting it from being plagiarised or stolen?
Your best bet is to consult a specialist lawyer as soon as possible. I have often found that in this day and age one can often get good results simply by reaching out to the “offending” party. A lot of the time the infringement was unintentional and they are willing to cooperate. If that fails, however, then consult a lawyer. The CIPC website also has a useful resource on how to manage and defend your rights.
What do I do if I suspect someone has stolen my intellectual property?
Although there is IP law that protects your work in terms of trademarks, designs patents and copy rights, it is very difficult to protect it if you put it on the internet and in public domain. What I recommend is that you always use a watermark or something on all your content in order to make sure people know it belongs to you. However, we do live in a space now where other people sharing our content is good. On the flip side, you don’t want people taking your content and making as if it is theirs, so put something on it so people know. If you do get plagiarised or your content does get stolen get in touch with the person and deal with it as soon as possible.
Is my IP in RSA valid anywhere in the world?
Generally IP is territorial, so it has to be dealt with in each country because different laws apply. Copyright is generally universal but when it comes to trademarks and stuff, that is limited to SA. To be safe should you find yourself in a position where it applies then consult a specialist.
One of the key things to remember is that putting things up on social media, be it YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, is essentially putting your work in the public domain which means people can share it willy-nilly and more often than not, when they do they can alter it. Make sure you are protected.