Copyrights, patents, trademarks and other legal terms can be confusing for authors and those in creative professions. But it’s important to be aware of what they mean, where they apply and if / when they can help. If some of the sections in this post get a little too technical, step out for a breath of fresh air, hear some birds chirping (original sounds work better than mobile ringtones) and come back to complete it.
Let’s start off with the definitions.
What is a copyright / trademark / patent?
A patent is the sole right over an intellectual property that prevents others from producing, using, selling or distributing an invention.
E.g. if you have invented a machine that can read people’s thoughts and document them in 10 different languages (with spell-check), the first thing you’d do it patent it.
Trademarks can be words, symbols, sound or any indicator that uniquely identifies an entity (either a person, an organisation, a company). It is used by the trademark owner to communicate the origins of a product or service to all its stakeholders (consumers, partners, general public). The symbols (R) and TM (or SM for services) used along with the image indicates registered and unregistered trademarks respectively.
E.g. Volkswagen, Google, Pepsi, Reebok, MBA Crystal Ball are all trademarks.
Re-phrased, it defines who owns the ‘right to copy’ the original as well as derivative works. If you are an author, this is the one that’s relevant for you.
All these rights are territorial, which makes it tough for those who have works, products or services that might have universal audience to enforce it across countries.
Fortunately with copyrights, there are a few things that make life easier compared to the other intellectual property rights (IPR) protection mechanisms.
- Like the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, a treaty that protects the rights across 162 countries. So you could file the copyright registration application in India and get legal protection in countries where you have a bigger market (like USA, UK, or any other country).
- Cost: It is relatively cheap to get copyright protection in India if you do it on your own. Of course, the expense goes up if you involve IPR consultants.
- Time: Compared to the time taken to register trademarks, copyright registration is relatively quicker.
Copyright: How much does it cost & how long does it take?
I’ve gone through the process of registering copyrights (independently without professional help) as well as trademarks (I hired an IPR consultant who charged a hefty fee). For the former, my registration fee (50 rupees, if I recall correctly, but it was not for my book) was less than the courier charge.
Within 3 months I had the copyright certificate in my hands. For registering the trademark (for my commercial venture MBA Crystal Ball), it took about 1.5 years and several thousand rupees in legal fees.
But as a paranoid author who’s extremely possessive about your work, what about basic question?
Do I really need a copyright for my book manuscript?
By default, as the creator of a manuscript you automatically gain the rights over your work. So, a formal copyright registration process isn’t mandatory. But in case, there is a situation where you need to prove ownership and the date of creation, having a legal document in your possession can be beneficial.
Apart from the challenge of getting published, for authors the other BIG issue is piracy.
In the good old days when manuscripts were hand-written, you could argue that your handwriting expert to compare. But computers and the internet have added an element of sophistication and complication that’s difficult to comprehend.
Do you really think the digital pirate (which his eye-patch and hooked hand sitting in his untraceable ship in the sea) is going to care two hoots about whether you have copyright protection? If he sees a significant commercial upside and a relatively lesser probability of getting handcuffs around their wrists, you’ll find your novel being copied for free download or being circulated for a profit.
The other way to think about it is, you know robbers may have tools to break into your home at night, but that shouldn’t stop you from locking the doors before your sleep. Many authors and publishers have proactively cracked down on erring torrent websites to plug (or at least reduce) the losses wherever possible.
What’s your view? For your manuscript, do you think it would make sense to go for a copyright?
Disclaimer: Posts on this site are for information only. They do not constitute legal advice.