113. How to Legally Protect Your Content [Copyright Registration 101]

How to Legally Protect Your Content [Copyright Registration 101]

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Unsure about the difference between trademarks and copyrights in online business? In this episode, we dive into the essential aspects of trademarking and copyrighting for online businesses. While trademarks are valuable for safeguarding the outward-facing elements of your business like names and logos, copyrights play a vital role in protecting your product or course content.

In this episode, you’ll hear… 

  • The difference between contracts and copyright
  • What to do if someone steals your content (before AND after)
  • How to decide what content you need to register

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Let’s look at this real-life example of Ashley — a content creator who faced legal challenges because she hadn’t copyrighted her course material.

The Contract-Copyright One-Two Punch

Ashley is an entrepreneur and influencer with a successful course about how to build an influencer business. Ashley had a contract at checkout with terms of use claiming that the content inside of the course is protected — you can’t reuse it or resell it. This is important, because she now has the ability to make a breach of contract claim. 

While she had that contract, she never actually registered the material that’s inside the course with the US Copyright Office — videos, slides, handouts, guides, templates, audio lessons, etc. When another person in the influencer space bought the course, she began selling the exact same templates and handouts in her own course.

During the legal battle that followed, it was difficult to prove that Ashley had the original claim to this content since it was never registered. If she had also copyrighted the material, she would have the one-two punch necessary to protect her and her content.

The Benefits of Registration

Look, let’s be real: As business owners, we create a lot of content. It’s not practical — or necessary — to protect every single piece of content that you create. What you choose to protect or not is up to you, so it’s important to know the risks and benefits so you can make an informed decision.

One benefit is that your work becomes a matter of public record, which is helpful for being able to prove that you were the one who created it, and when. Copyright also makes it easier to send a cease and desist and have it taken seriously without going through all the legal hurdles. It also gives you the ability to file a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court, which makes it a lot easier to get paid and taken care of.

Deciding What to Register

I personally like to follow my “bread and butter” approach. When deciding what to protect I ask myself: Is this my bread and butter? Would this financially impact me if I didn’t have it protected and somebody stole it?

I’m going to talk through this process in deeper detail in my new Copycats Training workshop. I’m going to talk through this process, walk people through it in detail, and then talk through what we would do if somebody stole your content, whether you had the copyright registration or not. I hope to see you there!

Episode Transcript

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Sam Vander Wielen: Hey, welcome back to On Your Terms. I’m your host, Sam Vander Wielen. I’m an attorney turned entrepreneur who helps online coaches, educators, course creators, service providers, all of the people with online businesses legally protect and grow those businesses using my DIY legal templates and my Ultimate Bundle.

So, on this show, each week, I bring you fresh legal tips, behind the scenes business building advice, marketing tips on how to legally protect that business, but also grow that business on your terms. So, if you’re new here, welcome. If you’re coming back, thank you so much for being here. I’m just so, so appreciative for you listening.

In other news in – or in news, I should say – in the news is that tomorrow I am hosting a live copycats workshop for the only time this year. So, it’s on Tuesday, April 25th, live at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. If you can’t make it though, you want to sign up anyway because, well, for one, it’s the only time I’m doing it, so you have no other choice. But, also, because you get the replay and you can listen to the replay as long as you need, as many times as you need.

And this is going to be an incredible workshop because this is one of those workshops, I mean, like all of my workshops, if I’m being honest, but it’s going to be one of those where I just really lay out the content for you. I’m not holding anything back. You’re going to walk away with actionable tips about how to actually bring down a copycat, how to craft a cease and desist letter, what to do if somebody steals your content.

And then, I’m also going to teach you how to not be the copycat by accident yourself. I know you would never intend to. But a lot of people ask me about how they can legally share other people’s content because they don’t want to accidentally get in trouble. And so, I’m going to go over that in the workshop as well.

You can use the coupon code Copycat25 to save $25 off at checkout as a thank you from me to you for listening to this episode. You only have until tomorrow to register, so you want to do that ASAP. And the Ultimate Bundle, my signature program that gives you all the legal templates and trainings you need to get a legally protected business, is on sale until Friday, April 28th only.

So, I’ll make sure I drop the link to sign up for the copycats workshop below. Use that coupon code, Copycat25, at checkout. And then, also, be sure to go check out the Ultimate Bundle if you’ve been wanting to join because it’s on sale for $400 off this week. Plus, you have a lot of awesome copycats related bonuses that I’ve never offered before. So, go and check that out.

Otherwise, just, I guess a little like personal catch up before we get into talking about protecting your products content with copyrights, today, as I’m recording this, is a Wednesday – so Monday and Tuesdays, I always have a lot of meetings and kind of more packed days in terms of obligations. And then, it tends to be that on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, things are a little quieter, a little bit more my own pace, and I can kind of get more of my internal work done.

I really like both, to be honest. I mean, you know, you own your own business, you know what it’s like. It’s like sometimes you’re by yourself all the time and so you’re like, "Okay. I could really use some human connection." So, I feel like I get all that with all of these meetings that I have.

But then, I also really love the work that I do, and I really love recording this podcast, and I love writing, I love writing my emails to my email list. If you don’t get my emails, make sure you drop your email below in the easy email list sign up. That means that you won’t get any marketing onboarding stuff. You’ll just start receiving my emails. But I love writing those. And I love hanging out with our Ultimate Bundle members to answer all of their questions every week. So, yeah, I look forward to both. I try to be in the moment for each one when I do that.

So, like a day like today, a Wednesday, I got up pretty early. I’m a morning person, so I wake up pretty early. I took my vitamins. I made coffee. I had a little protein shake. And then, Ryan inspired me to go to the gym because today was supposed to be a day off, but he was going for a personal training session. And I was like, "You know what? I’m going to tag along." And so, I did a little quick warm up and then I did a lot of shoulders and arm stuff, a lot of dynamic movements. I love going to the gym. I’ll just be honest with you, it’s not a place that I dread. I like every single move that my personal trainer has me do. I really thoroughly enjoy it. So, I tagged along to that.

And then, I grabbed a quick coffee on the way home. And then, when I came home, I got down to reviewing a lot of copy. So, I’m a few weeks ahead or behind or whatever, depending on how you look at it, from the copycats promotion. So, by the time you’re listening to this, we’ll be in full-blown copycat promo land. But, today, I was finalizing copy for the ads that you’re going to see for it and for the sales pages, and some signup pages, and stuff like that. And then, getting some backend stuff, I would say, more SEO admin stuff done.

And then, now, I’m going to record about four podcast episodes. This is my second of four. I have a rule with myself that I never record just one episode at a time unless it’s an emergency, or I’m behind, or I really am in a pinch. But if I’m going to sit down and do it, I batch outline a few, batch record a few, and then I can upload them all. So, it’s just much, much easier. And if I do four – well, nowadays, because I post twice a week, that gets me two weeks solid of content. And then, my team can take those episodes and then they can create Reels out of them, create posts out of them. There’s so much that everybody else can do.

I’m like the original domino. You know, I talked about this on my interview with Amy Porterfield that we’re the starting of the dominoes. And then, a lot of stuff can happen after us. But if it’s all on us to get things started, we have to be pretty organized.

So, yeah, that’s a little peek into my day. I just thought I would share that with you. It’d be fun to catch up. You’ll have to let me know if you like hearing about this kind of stuff on the podcast.

But after I record all these episodes, well, I’ll break in between for lunch, finish recording all the episodes. I’ll probably do some writing because I have emails that I have to write. I love writing emails to my list, so I’m going to focus on some of those.

And then, I have to take Hudson for a walk. So, I always take my dog, my Bernedoodle, Hudson, for a walk at the end of the workday, especially now that it’s lighter out, which I’m really appreciative of. And then, tonight is actually the first night of Passover. So, we’re going to a seder, and I’m really looking forward to that and just relaxing and having a good meal. It’s my first Passover without my dad, so that’s weighing pretty heavily on me today. But, yeah, it is what it is with grief.

So, that’s that. Thanks for coming along with me on my day. I’m really excited to dive into this episode. Let’s chat about how to protect your product’s content.

So, I know I’ve talked about this before, but for whatever reason in the online business industry, there’s a lot of hubbub around trademarks. So, I always see people being like, "I should trademark my business name. I should trademark my course name, trademark this, trademark that." And I’m not anti-trademarks and I’m not here to bash trademarks. It’s just that, you know, sometimes I see the emphasis being placed so heavily on trademarks.

And trademarks are way more fun because they’re outward facing, so it’s really fun in my mind or maybe I’m just a dork, I don’t know. But to have the R with the circle around it symbol, the registered trademark symbol, after something, it looks so serious and legit, like you own this phrase and that’s really cool. Whereas, when you copyright something with the U.S. Copyright Office, I mean, you get a certificate in the mail, but that’s it. There’s nothing that goes on your content. Like nobody knows, right? So, it’s more of an internal woohoo than an emoji of some sort.

So, I guess what bothers me then about hearing so many people talk about, "Oh. I want to trademark this course name or this product name or my business name," I’m like, "Well, but what about the stuff that’s in it?" Because, to me, the title of your course or your product, depending on what you do, but in the online business space specifically – I’m not talking about Nike sneakers or Louis Vuitton bags. It’s a different situation – when we’re online business owners and we’re creating, especially with some of the course names I see floating around that people are so freaked out about and they want to trademark and they’re like online business academy, online course creator, it’s just so generic. And they’re so freaked out about trademarking the term to block other people from using the term, but they don’t take any steps to actually protect the content that’s within the program.

And I don’t know about you, but my bread and butter, my secret sauce is what’s in the Ultimate Bundle, for example. What’s inside of the Ultimate Bundle is so crucial. It’s my money maker. The reason it sells so well is not because it’s called the Ultimate Bundle. It’s because of how good my legal templates are, and how good the trainings are, and how much everyone needs it, and how much you might have heard from, like, a friend or a colleague that they’ve purchased it and how much they’ve loved it and it’s changed their business life. That’s what sells it.

So, it’s not that I don’t care about the business or the product name, or something like that, but my primary concern when I go to sleep at night is protecting the meat and potatoes that are inside of it, the vegan meat and potatoes so it would be more like field roast or something like that. So, that’s what I’m really concerned about.

So, we focus a lot on trademarking these names and doing all of that. And then, also, rightfully so, on having contracts, which is also super important because we’re going to talk today about how protecting your product’s content is kind of like a one-two punch in my mind, or at least it should be. It should be a little uppercut of having a contract to checkout, and then a little jab or something, I don’t know. I know nothing about boxing, so I should not have used this example, but let’s just go with it. And then, a little jab of copywriting the content that’s inside of it.

Because we’re sort of missing a big piece if we don’t talk about when or if at all you need to register the content that’s inside of your product or your course with the U.S. Copyright Office too. So, we’re going to talk about how this is like one-two punch with having a contract and then having the stuff registered.

So, let me give you a little real world example of somebody we’re going to call Ashley. It’s not her actual name, but I’ve changed her name, so somebody I know. So, she had somebody buy her course. Her course is about teaching other influencers how to build influencer businesses or how to become an influencer. She is a very popular, famous influencer. And so, she has this course that apparently has helped lots and lots of people.

So, she had somebody who was also someone in the influencer space purchase her course. And Ashley had a contract at checkout so that when you bought her course, you agreed to a Terms of Use – which is the contract that I recommend to you that I sell. It’s a template. It’s included in the Bundle – at checkout. And in that contract, it says that when you purchase this, the stuff that’s inside of it is Ashley’s and that you can’t reuse it, you can’t resell it, all of that kind of stuff.

Now, why is that important? Why is it important to have a contract to checkout for a course like that? Well, because for many different reasons, including payment and everything. But let’s just focus today on intellectual property theft. The reason that that’s important is because now this gives us a breach of contract claim, because we have to tell people how they’re allowed to use our products.

Because when you offer an online course or a membership, or something like that, a digital product, you’re offering what’s called a limited license to somebody because you’re allowing them to access it. So, you’re allowing them to open it up, to view it, to work through the material. But you’re probably saying it’s just for you, you can’t resell it or you can’t share it with people who didn’t buy it.

So, that’s you creating a limited license for your product, which is the right thing to do and that’s how you kind of control the use of your product. That’s also then what gives us a breach of contract claim against somebody when they buy your product and they do share it against the terms of use.

So, in this example that I’m giving you, Ashley, she had that contract but she never actually registered the material that’s inside the course with the U.S. Copyright Office. So, the things that are inside her course that would qualified for copyright protection are all of the videos that she had, the video lessons, the slides, the handouts, all the PDFs, the guides, templates, anything like that that was included, audio, she had some audio lessons, that would all be fair game for copyright registration.

But she never registered the material. So, really, all she had legally was the contract, which is great. But, remember, we’re looking for that boom-boom, one-two punch. And she only had the boom, the one punch. So, what do you know, the girl who bought her course who was also an influencer – I forget now how – she somehow found out that this person was reselling. Oh, I know – because one of her customers actually purchased this other person’s course as well and was like, "Wait a minute. I’ve seen this stuff already inside of Ashley’s program," alerted Ashley to it. Ashley had her team purchase it.

And when they got inside, they learned that, basically, a lot of the handouts, especially the templates that were like email templates, pitch templates, all this kind of stuff, they were copied nearly word for word. They were nearly identical, if not completely identical.

And so, when they went through this legal battle, she had her really good on a contract claim to say, "Look, you purchased my course when you purchased my course. There was a contract at checkout, it said that you couldn’t reuse it." And so, that’s one thing. But it made it very difficult to prove that Ashley was the owner of this content as original content because she never had the content registered.

Now, instead of just having this one punch, if Ashley had also copywritten this material that was inside of her course, then she would have also had her on a copyright claim, copyright infringement. And as we’ll talk about in a second, that would have given her a whole host, first of all, it gives you the presumption of ownership, it would have given her statutory damages, attorney’s fees, all kinds of things.

So, it’s a really nice combo effect to have the contract at checkout so that we cover ourselves with the contract claim. And then, we also have our stuff registered. But we’re going to talk about in a second, Does that mean I should do this for everything?

So, let’s talk about benefits of registration. So, you don’t have to register every single thing that you produce. In fact, that would not be practical. I’ve talked about this a lot on the podcast about how we produce a lot of content and you can’t possibly have to register every single thing with the U.S. Copyright Office. I can’t tell you what you should and shouldn’t register. And if you want, you can go and register everything or you can register nothing. I think, like all things in life, it’s just about knowing what the risks are, what the benefits are.

For me, at least, my approach to it for just myself – I can’t tell you to follow this – I like to follow what I call the bread and butter approach of like, Is this my bread and butter? Would this financially impact me or my business if I didn’t have it protected and somebody stole it? And the reason I say bread and butter, too, is because I think it helps you to not run out and try to register every single thing just from the jump versus like, "Oh. I created this course and people are buying it, I should go and register it."

Now, the nice thing about copyright registration is that it’s a lot faster than trademark registration and a lot cheaper. So, if you do create a course and a few people start buying it, you can very quickly upload this, register it, and get a certificate back. So, I would say that it’s just a lot easier than trademark and it’s not a one or the other. It’s not like you’re choosing do I want to trademark this or copyright it. They’re totally different things. I have an episode for you that I’ll link to below where I kind of break down the difference in trademarking and copywriting. But I’m just saying it is a lot easier.

So, although you don’t have to register everything because we do have common law copyright protection in original content that we create, there are a lot of benefits to registering things with the U.S. Copyright Office that you don’t get if you don’t register. So, for one, your work becomes a matter of public record, which is really helpful for being able to prove that you were the one who created it if there’s ever an issue and also creates sort of a time stamp.

There’s also this presumption of ownership. This is what I was saying would have happened in Ashley’s case, where when Ashley got into this legal battle over what happened in her course, the other girl tried saying that she had, in fact, created these email templates, and now she felt like they were stolen by Ashley. And so, this would have been really helpful to have, let’s say, a copyright certificate where you would have shown that this stuff was registered a year or two ago or whatever. And it gives you the presumption of ownership because you took the step of registering them. So, that’s really important.

Now, you might be thinking like, "What stops somebody from just going to the Copyright Office and submitting something and saying it’s theirs?" Well, you have to certify when you upload stuff that it’s actually yours. And it’s a crime to do that. So, if the other girl had sent off the email templates to register instead of Ashley and they really were Ashley’s, that would be theft and she would face penalties under Federal Law for having submitted a false form to the U.S. Copyright Office. So, there are – I don’t know – gatekeepers for that, I guess. So, we do get this presumption of ownership, which is super helpful.

Also, I can tell you in practice, like when I was a practicing attorney, if somebody stole somebody’s content and our client had a copyright registration, a copyright certificate for it, we would just send a cease and desist letter and a copy of the certificate and be like, "You have to take this down. Our client owns this. We even have a copyright in it. Here’s the thing." And it was just like a much more serious and faster way to get people to rightfully take stuff down.

The same goes for trademarks, too, by the way. Like, if you have something trademarked and somebody’s getting a little too close to it, you’re going to be in a way better position to send an email and be like, "Hey. I have a registered trademark for this," versus just being like, "Hey. I’ve been using this phrase for X number of years." So, that presumption of ownership don’t discount that. That’s a big, big benefit.

Now, one of the other big benefits to registering your stuff, your content, a course, or a product, or something with the U.S. Copyright Office is that it also gives you the ability to file a copyright infringement lawsuit in Federal Court, which is really big, because it gives you access to what we call statutory damages.

So, the reason that that’s really important is because under the law, under the Copyright Law in America, there’s what I would call automatic damages. Like, if somebody infringes on your copyright and you can prove that, you get X amount. And it just makes it really clear cut, you don’t have to fight for it. So, that’s really helpful. You get those additional damages.

You also can get attorney’s fees, which is huge because, in America, a lot of people think you can get attorney’s fees just if you’re right. But attorney’s fees in most states are only – what we call – statutorily allowed. So, basically, there has to be a statute that says that you can get attorney’s fees back. This is one of them. So, under Copyright Law in America, if you have a copyright and then you have to go after somebody for infringement and you’re successful, you can also recoup your attorney’s fees so it doesn’t cost you anything to have gone after them. So, that’s big.

So, what does then filing a copyright registration look like? So, this is done through the U.S. Copyright Office. It’s separate from the USPTO, that’s the United States Patent and Trademark Office. They only deal with patents and trademarks. The U.S. Copyright Office only deals with copyrights. It’s copyright.gov. We can drop the link to their website below. They have a ton of really good resources on their website. I’d highly recommend checking it out.

But in general, there are three things that are required to file for copyright protection. There’s a form that you fill out. There’s a fee that you pay, and it’s roughly $45 to 65-ish, it really depends on what kind of form you use and how much content you’re actually uploading, like one thing versus a whole series of videos. And then, the third thing that’s required to file is what they call a deposit, which is really just a copy of the work that you’re submitting that won’t be returned. So, if you were sending off, like, a book that you’ve handwritten, make sure you’ve made a copy because you’re not getting it back. So, that’s how you do it.

So, I’m going to talk through this process in deeper detail in my new workshop, the one that’s on April 25th, that I hope I will see you at live or if you purchase it now so that you can watch it on your own time, you’ll have unlimited access to that replay. I’m going to talk through this process, walk people through it in detail, and then talk through, obviously, what we would do if somebody stole it, whether you had the copyright registration or not.

So, copyright registration or trademark registration are not going to be requirements to learn anything I’m teaching in the April 25th Copycats Workshop. It’s just going to be I’m going to teach you how to go after copycat if you don’t have one, and then how to go after one if you do.

The Ultimate Bundle, my signature product that gives you over ten DIY legal templates and over 35 on-demand video trainings, will also have a copyright walkthrough. So, a how to copyright your material walkthrough training for you in it. By the time that you join, it’ll be in there very soon. We also just recently added a how to file a trademark walkthrough training. So, I filed a trademark in real time, walking through the forms that you could do it on your own if you wanted to. So, that was really cool.

So, I hope I’ll see you at my copycat workshop. Make sure you use coupon code Copycat25. I love coupon codes. So, I always get so pissed when I realize that I missed out on a coupon code. So, do not miss out on this coupon code. I hope to see you there. I’m so excited for it.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode.
Please do me a favor and send this to a friend, text it to a friend if they would find it helpful. Leave me a quick review on Apple, or Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. I so appreciate it and I’ll see you next week.

Thanks so much for listening to the On Your Terms Podcast. Make sure to follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. You can also check out all of our podcast episodes, show notes, links, and more at samvanderwielen.com/podcast. You can learn more about legally protecting your business and take my free legal workshop, Five Steps to Legally Protect and Grow Your Online Business, at samvanderwielen.com. And to stay connected and follow along, follow me on Instagram, @samvanderwielen, and send me a DM to say hi.

Just remember that although I am a attorney, I am not your attorney and I am not offering you legal advice in today’s episode. This episode and all of my episodes are informational and educational only. It is not a substitute for seeking out your own advice from your own lawyer. And please keep in mind that I can’t offer you legal advice. I don’t ever offer any legal services. But I think I offer some pretty good information.


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Resources Discussed in This Episode

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