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Ask the Attorneys: Intellectual Property & The Web, Part 1

You have an original idea for a web series and you think the show can achieve internet viral fame. One of your main concerns is making sure no one else steals your creation. That is where intellectual property law comes into play. Before you become the next Rebecca Black, learn about your rights.

First, you need to understand the intellectual property (IP) rights available to you. Then, you can determine how to protect those IP rights. Being proactive about your rights is your best line of defense as a creator. In two posts, we'll teach you how to consider some key issues concerning your online IP.

Understanding your IP rights:

  • Your original video creation is automatically protected by copyright once it is recorded onto a tangible medium such as a video, or an AVI. or a MOV. computer file. However, the idea or concept of your video is not protected. What is your property is your expression of the idea or concept.

  • Generally, if you are the author or creator of the video then you are the copyright owner of the video creation. However, if you are an employee working within the scope of your employment when creating the video (for example, you were hired as a video production staffer), then generally your employer is the copyright owner.

  • Generally, an independent contractor (i.e., one who is not an employee) owns copyright in his or her works created for others unless an agreement in writing provides otherwise - even if the independent contractor receives payment for the work.

  • Other persons contributing as co-authors to the video generally share copyright ownership of the video, absent a written agreement to the contrary.

  • Each completed video for your web series is protectable by copyright.  Individual elements of the video also might be protectable on their own.

  • Ensure that you have sufficient rights to use any elements created by others and incorporated into the video (e.g., script, music, effects, performances, etc.) - preferably before production, and certainly before display and distribution.  You can license rights to use others' works if they agree to do so. Those license agreements also should be obtained in writing.

  • Copyright "fair use" allows you to use others' protected work without permission in certain cases - but be sure that it applies in your case if you intend to rely on it.

  • Just like you want to protect your original work, respect the work of other creators. If you do not have permission to use Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" in your video then you can be liable for copyright infringement.  The main lesson is to keep everything used in your video creation as original as possible, or get the permission to use it.

Joshua R. Bressler is an intellectual property attorney at Bressler Law PLLC.

Shanece Taylor is a student intern at the entertainment law firm of Hrbek Law LLC.

This blog post provides general information about the law for the benefit of Fractured Atlas members. The information contained in this post is not legal advice. Please consult with a lawyer to obtain advice about how the law impacts your particular situation.