Here’s a simple 3 step system you can set up to protect your creative work.

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We recently chatted about the power in your content and the importance of registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Typically, when I breakdown the fees and ease in registering copyrights, the very next thing peeps ask is,

But how do I handle everything I’ve created so far? I’ve created so much I’ll never find the time…

That’s a very real concern. I recommend prioritizing your previous work instead of trying to tackle everything, now. This is something I counsel my clients on. It’s way too much of an individualized process for me to dig into it on a blog post. But, this post will help you set up a system that will prevent this from happening in the future. After all, you’re probably creating on a regular basis which means you have work that needs to be protected and registered with the copyright office regularly.

By the way, if this is your first stop on my blog, you may want to read this post where I dig into why registering your work with the copyright office is so important.

I know you have a lot going on. You’re either building this business while working or you’ve got multiple clients, customers and projects you’re juggling. I get it. This is why its necessary to have a solid system in place, to help you.

I don’t want lack of a system to keep you from protecting your content. Here is an easy breezy 3 step system you can put in place to help you.

1- Track it.

The very first thing I want you to do is to set up a system where you can keep inventory of your creative content. This can be a simple Google Documents spreadsheet or whatever program works best for you. You’ll need to capture this information:

  • File Name
  • Type of work
  • Purpose of the work and where it was distributed.
  • Date the work was created
  • Date the work was distributed
  • Names of any co-owners
  • Date any work-for-hire agreements were signed or assignments were obtained
  • Date of last review
  • Issues observed
  • Date of contact

File Name

Give each file a recognizable name making it easy for you to determine from the title exactly what the work is.

Type of Work

Simply identify the type of work such as photo, blog post, curriculum, script, etc. I suggest this because if you’re creating often, you may not quickly recall each work. You want this spreadsheet to provide an easy overview without you having to sift through files.

Date the work was created.

I know that some work may be created over a span of time. You can roll with the date you first started to create the work.

Purpose of the work and where it was distributed.

Again, you want all of this information in one place. For instance, if you wrote creative copy for your marketing collateral, then you’ll simply state “marketing collateral”. We don’t need a thesis here – keep it short. Then, you’ll need to note where the work was distributed. In this example, marketing collateral may be distributed by direct mail, or by email to prospective clients. If it wasn’t distributed yet, just note “n/a.” Noting how the creative content is distributed is necessary in order to determine whether the work is published or unpublished (a very important concept in copyright law). I’ll explain more at the end of this post.

Date the work was actually distributed

When it’s time to register your creative content you need to avoid any guess work. You must submit accurate information to the copyright office and you don’t want to do anything that may invalidate your registration.

Names of any co-owners of the work

If you created the content 100% on your own then you’re good. But, if any part of it was outsourced then you need to make sure you actually own the work now. The way copyright ownership is handled when you didn’t create the work is by having the creator sign a work-for-hire when you first hire them, or getting them to sign an assignment transferring over ownership in the work to you.

Remember, just because you paid for someone to create work for you, it doesn’t mean that you own it. You can’t retroactively get a work-for-hire agreement but you can go back and get an assignment. I have you tracking these details in your spreadsheet because if you haven’t secured ownership of the content from the creator, it will remind you to take care of it.

Date any work-for-hire agreements were signed or assignments were obtained

Again, this will keep you from doing any guesswork later in the process and serve as additional confirmation that you actually handled all copyright assignments.

The remaining sections of your spreadsheet will fall under the monitor it section below so we’ll touch on that in a second. 

Delegation

Now, if you are lucky enough to have an assistant, this is something you can easily delegate to him/her. I’d recommend adding this as a standing agenda item on your team calls. If you don’t have a regular assistant, you can bring one in to handle this once a month on a per project basis. On each call/meeting, talk through your new creations for the month.

Here is how I would handle delegation of this task:

  1. Set up a shared Google Drive or Dropbox folder for each month’s creations. Each folder would be named something like, “September Creations.”
  2. Store everything you create in that folder (and don’t forget to give your assistant access).
  3. At the end of each month, have a call with your assistant where you give them all details for each file saved in your creation folder. She/he can actually fill out the spreadsheet while you talk through it.
  4. Once everything is reviewed with the assistant you can move the file from the creations folder to it’s permanent home.

2- Monitor it.

Now, as a content creator and copyright owner you have a duty to monitor your work for infringement. This doesn’t have to be a daunting task. These tools will help you:

Google Alerts: A free way to monitor brand name mentions.

Google Images A free way to detect whether someone has jacked your images(s).

Copyscape A free way to monitor for infringement of your written content.

iCopyright A low-cost way to monitor for infringement of your written content.

Go ahead and set up accounts on these websites so you already have access, and can focus on implementing your monitoring activities each month.

Now, let’s set up the system.

Take this list below and add it to your task management app of choice (I personally love Asana). These are going to be your recurring content monitoring activities:

  • Review google alert for any brand name mentions
  • Plug 3-5  of my best images I shared into Google Images to see where they surface online. (If you have time to do more that’s fantastic).
  • Plug 1-3 paragraphs from each thing I’ve written and shared this month into Copyscape. (If you choose to pay for iCopyright’s paid service then they’ll send a report your way).
  • Visit the websites that turned up in my search.
  • Capture a screenshot of my content on that website.
  • Review the term’s of service/use or about page for contact information.
  • Decide whether to contact the infringer directly or send a DMCA takedown notice to their hosting provider. People can share your content without permission if and only if  it constitutes “fair use.” Fair use is not an excuse for plagiarism. Fair use is a separate conversation itself, but in this situation if someone has posted your work (either in full or in part) to critique or comment on it, then it’s probably fair use.
  • Update these columns on your spreadsheet:
    • Date of last review
    • Issues observed
    • Date of contact

3- Schedule it.

Now, you’ve got your tools and tasks in place. The very next thing you’ll do is schedule time to manage it. I trust that because you’re here, you value your work and are serious about protecting your intellectual property (specifically your content). Let’s build in the time to do it. No excuses.

Monthly tasks

Set a calendar (or task) alert to update your tracking spreadsheet and monitor your work on a monthly basis. For some reason, I’m a fan of end of month reviews. I shouldn’t take you anymore than 3 hours. If you’re producing a ton and it will take longer, then consider handling this 2x a month.

Quarterly task

Every quarter you’ll want to plan to register the work you’ve created with the copyright office. This timing is important because you’ll only take advantage of the benefits of copyright registration if you’ve registered within three months of publication of the work, or you’ve registered before discovering infringement. Unless you’re a psychic you’ll never know when someone is going to jack your good stuff – so play it safe and stick to the three month grace period.

Schedule these registration dates now:

  • March 31
  • June 30
  • September 30
  • December 31

Let’s sum it all up.

Cheers!!!! Now, you have a system in place to protect your creative work. I hope that you take this info and get everything set up. It will seriously save you money down the road. When you do work with an attorney, you won’t have to pay them to compile this preliminary information or to have lengthy conversations while the two of you sort this stuff out. You’ll have it all laid out. Genius, right?

You can instead work with the attorney to give you strategic legal counsel – that’ll give you way more bang for buck.

For example, I mentioned earlier there’s a legal difference between an unpublished and published work. The attorney can review everything you’ve prepared, counsel you on which category your work falls into so you’ll know exactly how to register (this is a fine line legal distinction), help you sort out any issues where there may be joint owners or copyrights need to be transferred, and answer any questions you have about the copyright registration process.

You can then register your work with the copyright office on your own.

You will save at least $1,500 each time you register your work (and I’m being really conservative) by doing the pre-work and simpler registrations yourself. Intellectual property attorneys cost anywhere from $250.00-$500.00 per hour (and this is totally appropriate – it’s a highly specialized area of the law). But, I want you to be savvy about your spending and do what makes sense on your own.

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