Protect Ya Neck: Copyright, trademark and intellectual property
June 30, 2016 at 2:00 am
We spend a lot of time talking about who is biting. Biting is a cardinal sin. Among us, you gotta come original. Nonetheless, people bite. They copy someone’s style, jock someone’s steez, they sit back in the corner, observe and extract what they need to concoct their elixir of cool. This becomes problematic in the business world, though. And so, there begs the question: How do I protect my steez if my steez is actually a business idea that I’m trying to monetize or already have begun monetizing. It begins (and in many cases, ends) with the knowing the basics:
Lesson #1: Know what qualifies as intellectual property
Intellectual property is defined as “a work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.” So if it’s your original idea or creation, it qualities as intellectual property, and you should take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
Lesson #2: Copyright and trademark are not the same thing
(I mean, they shouldn’t be because they have different names, right?)
Copyright gives you the exclusive rights to your creation. It should not be confused with getting a patent (an original and physical invention that you have exclusive rights to for a limited time). You copyright a song or a poem or a video, you patent a new kind of vacuum that does something other vacuums have never done. Learn more and actually copyright your stuff here.
A trademark is a word, symbol or image that distinguishes your product from others. You don’t trademark your song. You do trademark your logo or your name. Learn more and actually trademark your stuff here.
Lesson #3: Take these steps before you release it to the world
I’ll never forget seeing an interview with Birdman, where he laments not having “copywritten” (he actually meant trademarked) the word “bling.” Think about every brand that has used the word bling, from clothing lines to jewelry companies. Had Birdman taken the proper legal steps to protect his team’s intellectual property, they would be rolling in the dough (well… more than they already are). Even when you upload your song on Soundcloud or upload your photos on Photobucket and the site promises that you will retain all rights to your work, you should take the proper legal steps to make sure that those works are protected. In the short term, it might seem expensive (copyrighting a song is about $40 per song). In the long run, you’re avoiding possible long, drawn out litigation or trying to recoup money from someone who decided to “bite.”
Lesson #4: Know your business form (and its tax implications)
Are you a sole proprietor? A partnership? Would you like to form an LLC or a corporation? Are you a non-profit organization? These are important things to know. A lot of us start businesses as a side hustle to do what we love or sometimes just to make ends meet. These businesses are casual and frequently inconsistent, but opportunity favors the prepared, right? By knowing your business form, you can plan one, five and even 10 years in advance and set goals to achieve great success. Each business form is also taxed differently, which might affect your decision for how you build your company.
Lesson #5: Write a business plan now
I’ll be transparent and say that for the first two years of my business, I had no written business plan. I was rolling by the seat of my pants and calling the necessary audibles along the way. Now, just because I didn’t go bankrupt, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have written down a business plan. A lot of us use the excuse “it’s all up here,” while pointing to our heads as a way to avoid writing a business plan. To be frank: There is no excuse.
Writing a business plan helps to synthesize your thoughts into a cohesive, concise document that also includes your vision, your mission statement, the startup costs, why your business is needed in the marketplace, your competitors and why your product or service is better and more. This is an essential part of becoming funded. Many of us miss out on opportunities for funding because we don’t have all of our ducks in a row. The business plan is one of the most important ducks. It’s also another piece of documentation that proves that this is your original idea, and it can protect you from vultures circling and waiting for a brilliant idea to steal. Don’t let it be yours. Does writing it seem daunting to you? It did to me. Look online for example business plans and templates to help you get started.