April 9, 2020 | Written By Nicole Gaither
With COVID-19 forcing an increasing number of people to work from home, and many employees finding themselves either furloughed or laid off, there is an increase in the number of “side hustles” becoming “main hustles.” A significant amount of time is being devoted to work from home businesses – launching new businesses, moving brick and mortar businesses online, and increasing online presences of existing businesses. With more time now available, there are more complaints of unauthorized copying and use of protected content, images, websites, slogans, logos, and in some cases, total and complete brand theft.
If you have not had your work copied, then take this as your BOLO notice. While I hope it does not happen to you, it could be a matter of when versus if since more and more of us are moving to online and virtual spaces. Gone are the times where your work was just noticed by those who visited your brick and mortar store or gallery. Because of the internet and more accessibility, it has become easier for people to be “inspired” and cross the line from simple inspiration to outright copying and infringement.
So what can you do to make sure your creative hard work (content, products, or services) is still noticed while protecting your work and securing your rights?
Protecting your work is not as expensive as you might think. There are resources available at all price points. If you are a DIY-type and have the time (and patience), both websites for the USPTO – the United States Patent and Trademark Office (link here) – and the U.S. Copyright Office (link here) have resources available to guide you through the process. (Note: This is if you have the time and patience. It is also only if you have something that is deemed fairly straight-forward and unique that you are sure is not infringing on someone else’s work.)
If located in an area where there are pro-bono resources still active and available (such as a volunteer lawyers’ association), you can apply to obtain legal services to assist with registering your copyrights and trademarks. These resources are generally reserved for those who qualify as low income.
For those of you who do not have the time or patience to learn a new area outside of your main job and don’t qualify for pro-bono resources, you should contact an intellectual property attorney (one who is focused on trademark, copyright, and/or patent protection). Yes, it is an investment. But trying to recover your work after an infringement or theft costs a lot more. (And it also costs you on the flip side – do you even know if you own this brand, name, or content that you are marketing?) So yes, it’s worth it. And if you don’t think so, ask yourself how valuable your work is to you. That should help you decide.
Finding your work being used by another entity without your permission is no party. But now you know that if (and unfortunately, when) it happens, you have recourse and can protect your intellectual property.
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