Copyright: Avoiding Copycats … and Avoiding Being One by @LegallySavvySBO

Copyright: Avoiding Copycats … and Avoiding Being One

by Susan Burns | Featured Contributor 

One area of the law that has become significantly LESS complicated over the last 35 years is copyright law. Even though it is much easier to comply, it is an area where  even the most experienced business owners make mistakes.

Learn how you can easily avoid two of those mistakes:

  • Incorrect copyright notice
  • Using material created by others, like music, photos and copy


copyright bomb

Copyright Notice

Raise your hand if this is you: You take the time and trouble to put a copyright notice at the bottom of your website, AND you do any of the following things:

  • update your copy and don’t update your copyright notice –

Example: ©Small Business Legal School Ltd

  • use your url or Twitter name as the copyright holder –

Example: ©2017 – or ©2017 @LegallySavvySBO

  • use your company name, but don’t use the legal name (“Inc” or “LLC”) –

Example: ©2017 Small Business Legal School

Take your image up a professional Legally Savvy notch and do it properly:

  • Update your copyright notice when you update your copy … and it’s a new year, so put this on the top of your list.

Example: © 2017 Small Business Legal School Ltd

  • Use your company name as the copyright owner (unless you own it personally).

Example: © 2017 Small Business Legal School Ltd (© 2017 Susan Burns)

  • When you use your company name, use the entire legal name and include “Inc” “LLC” or appropriate designation.

Example: © 2017 Small Business Legal School Ltd

Tip #1: if you want to include a copyright notice[1] on your website or other materials you create, follow these three simple steps:

  1. Use the “c” symbol for copyright: © or (c). Or, you may use the word “copyright.”
  2. After the © insert a space and type in the year of publication. If you published earlier and are republishing, designate year of first publication and current year: “2014, 2017.”
  3. Add a space after the year and insert the legal name of the copyright owner – either your company “Small Business Legal School Ltd” or your personal name “Susan Burns.”
  4. Other rules apply for books, movies, recordings, software, so check with your favorite lawyer on that.

Using Other People’s Material

Did you hear the one about the business owner who wrote a blog post and used a photo of a green pepper without obtaining permission and ended up paying something to the tune of $13,000?

Yes. It does happen. To people like you and me.

I don’t know how this rumor was started, but I hear it all the time. You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve probably said it yourself.

Oh, it’s okay, I acknowledged that it was their photo (or their copy).

Or, how about this one: well, it’s not like everyone doesn’t know the “Happy” song isn’t Pharrell’s.

Does that save you? Hell NO!

If you want to keep your business behind out of some hot water on this issue, the general rule is this:

Only the owner of the copyright has the right to authorize your use.

In other words, you must have permission of the owner of the copyright to use their material.

There are limited exceptions for materials in the public domain, which can be used according to permissions given, and under the fair use doctrine–but this is a fairly nuanced area of the law so you should call your favorite lawyer on this one.

Tip #2: If you want to use other people’s material, obtain their permission.

That permission should be in writing, of course. Sometimes you will be required to sign a licensing agreement and pay a fee. Other times, the person may be pleased as punch you are using their material as long as you give them attribution. The key is permission.


SBLS Blue FeatherIf you’re serious about growing your business and you are tired of the legal boogeymen under your bed, join us at Small Business Legal School to make sure you have your website and other business operations up to legal snuff


[1] The copyright notice is no longer legally required but it is a good reminder to others that your work is protected and may not be published or copied without your permission. Also, is anyone does copy your work, they can’t claim that they didn’t know it was protected.


Susan BurnsSusan Burns, Attorney and Business Strategist is the CEO and Founder of Small Business Legal School Ltd.

Susan is a business strategist, attorney, and a champion of big ideas. She believes that a business worth building is a business worth protecting. Her focus is on providing practical legal information to women business owners to support business growth and optimize success. Susan is passionate about leveling the playing field for access to critical legal information that can make or break small businesses.

After 30 years of a diverse background in practicing law — from the largest firm in Minnesota, to in-house general counsel for a global company, and to starting her own firm – and continuously seeing the legal problems that crippled small businesses, Susan decided that there had to be a better way to provide access to critical legal information. She researched, interviewed her clients, surveyed women business owners and then devised a strategy based on survey results. That strategy is Small Business Legal School – teaching women business owners an effective way to support their business success and #CoverYourAssets.

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