How to Copyright Your Materials

Posted by on Mar 10 2014

I’m not an intellectual property attorney. But I’ve had my work stolen enough times that I know how to protect myself.

It’s really important that you DO copyright your work officially through your government channels. Yes, most governments say that the moment you create something it’s copyrighted, but the fact is if someone steals your work, you have to prove you were the first one to create it.

Submitting your materials officially to your government’s copyright office saves you a lot of headaches later on.

What Work Can You Copyright?

  • group and training program materials
  • forms and worksheets
  • books (physical or ebooks)
  • audio and video programs
  • educational exercises
  • your website/blog
  • student guides
  • songs/jingles
  • photos/images/artwork

It’s your material, you should protect it.

If you’re in the USA, you can upload your material via the US Copyright Office website. If you upload your materials, it’s only $35 and it takes a few months for them to process your paperwork; if you mail hard-copy, the fee is $65 and it can take 9-12 months for them to process it. (Note: fees change, so check out the Copyright Office website for their current fees.)

You’ll also find a Copyright Basics article (PDF) on the US Copyright Office website, as well as a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

Bundling Pays

You have to pay the copyright registration fee for each item you copyright. However, the USA Copyright Office allows you to “bundle” material together and call it a “program.”

For instance, when I copyrighted the Mastermind Group Facilitator Training class, my bundle included:

  1. my lesson plan
  2. my student guide
  3. all the forms I give to students

I called my submission to the Copyright Office “The Mastermind Group Facilitator Training Program” and uploaded just one PDF file with all the contents.

I also took all my articles from the last year, put them together in one PDF, and uploaded the one bundle entitled, “Karyn Greenstreet 2013 articles.”

If I had sent them as separate PDF files, it would have cost me $35 for each PDF/item I submitted; because I bundled it into one PDF file, I paid just $35 for the whole submission.

Once you get your copyright number back from the government, put it on EVERYTHING: your website (if you copyrighted it), your forms, your student/group materials, etc. Let people clearly know that you have an official date stamp of when you created your materials in case someone copies your work.

This is especially important if you have created a program or system from scratch. You put a huge amount of time and effort into creating your materials and your process. Take the 15 minutes and $35 to protect it.

What about the Poor Man’s Copyright?

There is a concept called the Poor Man’s Copyright where you send a copy of your work to yourself in a sealed envelope, so that the date of copyright is established by the postmark. This is what the US Copyright Office has to say about that:

The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

What About Other Countries?

Many countries have agreements to honor each other’s copyrighted materials. Some countries do not have a copyright submission process, but recognize outside for-profit and non-profits companies that accept copyright submissions. It might be called a “copyright office” or an “intellectual property (IP) office” in your country.

One hint that a website is the official government website for copyright information and protection is that the URL of their website may have “gov” or “govt” in the name.

Be careful that you get to your official national government site for copyright information and applications. There are a lot of for-profit websites that offer to submit copyrights for you, but it’s not the same as getting the information directly from the government agency that does the work and knows the laws.

The best place to get your questions answered about copyrighting (and patents and trademarks) is your official government website devoted to the topic.

If you find a website for your country’s government office that I’ve not included in this blog post, please leave a comment so that we can all share the resources. Thanks!

Copyright versus Trademark

Note that a copyright is not the same thing as a trademark or a patent. See your countries’ websites to learn the difference. This article from LegalZoom entitled How do I know if I need trademark or copyright protection? may help clarify things for you.

The Final Story

So…what if someone does steal your website text? Read my blog post about Are Thieves Stealing Your Website Text? It includes information about what to do if you find that someone has broken your copyright.

It is well worth the time and money to officially copyright your work and your materials. Put time in your calendar right now to focus on this important task.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.  🙂

Did you find this helpful? I’d love to hear your comments below!

Read the companion article, Who Owns Your Website?


16 comments for now

16 Responses to “How to Copyright Your Materials”

  1. Great blog Karyn. Appreciate the clear and concise information, making it easy to understand what needs to be copywritten and what it involves. It is now on my “to do” list. Very important information to have.

    29 Nov 2011 at 9:11 am

  2. Karyn Greenstreet

    I’m glad you found it helpful, Audrey. Yes, it takes a little work to gather up your material, but the form is easy to fill out, and you can upload your work in the twinkling of an eye. 🙂

    I find that December is a great month to do this type of project, looking back over the entire year to see what new content you created and which content needs copyright protection.

    29 Nov 2011 at 9:32 am

  3. I sent 16 high quality tiff files of my work to a canadian company with whom I had a contract. They were to sell my work and send me a 10% commission. they changed my name from Dawn to Andrea on the website and in the catalogue. I never received a penny from them and they asked after two years if I wanted to renew my contract I said nio I have never received a penny from you. This year i found three of my giclees at Cost U Less at 1/10th of what i sell them for. I pursued them as an attorney wanted to be paid up front since I did not have a government patent filed. They claimed they only sold two giclees in five years. the only satifaction I got was that they removed my artwork from 19 Cost U less stores here in Hawaii. Ouch. I like your information about bundling.I plan to do it in the furture as there are two other companies selling my artwork without a contract or permission.

    29 Nov 2011 at 3:41 pm

  4. Karyn Greenstreet

    Oh, Dawn, I’m so sorry to hear this happened to you!

    30 Nov 2011 at 12:03 am

  5. I like the bundling idea. I have copyright written on my website/blog/free e-book, but didn’t realize I need to register it. I’m wondering if I can bundle it all under websites or electronic media 2011? And, are you referring to the E-co site for US (to download papers)?

    30 Nov 2011 at 5:30 pm

  6. Karyn Greenstreet

    Marci, when I copyrighted my website, I included all PDFs and MP3 downloads that were on the site, as well as the individual site pages in the bundle. I think I just entitled it, “Passion For Business Website”.

    P.S. I’m not sure what you’re asking in your second question.

    30 Nov 2011 at 8:10 pm

  7. Hi Karyn

    Thanks for making it simple and inspiring me to make it a priority to register in 2012.
    Question-when we update/add posts to a copyrighted website, what happens to those materials. Are they automatically copyrighted or do we have to re-register?

    04 Dec 2011 at 7:46 am

  8. Karyn Greenstreet

    You would have to register any new material added to your website, Lalitha.

    05 Dec 2011 at 10:44 am

  9. Thanks Karyn. Appreciate your prompt response.

    09 Dec 2011 at 7:44 pm

  10. Does the copyright have to be updated periodically for a blog site such as this…by this i mean do you bundle a month of blog copy and have to copyright that as well?

    10 Dec 2011 at 9:49 pm

  11. Karyn Greenstreet

    John, I tend to copyright blog posts by year. So in January of 2012, I’ll copyright all the blog post from 2011.

    12 Dec 2011 at 6:43 pm

  12. Karyn this is perfect timing as I have heard over the years how someone has stolen my materials and is selling them much cheaper. Needless to say this is costing me lost business just yesterday I actually had a lawyer tell me she had no problem buying the older out of date info as it would save her and her husband money. Meanwhile my patent attorney has said not worth going after these people Arrgghh

    I fired the patent attorney last night! Thanks as always for your wonderful info!


    11 Mar 2014 at 8:44 am

  13. Karyn Greenstreet

    If it’s costing you money, Chery, it’s always worth going after someone, even if it’s just through small claims court. The point is to stop them from using your copyrighted materials.

    11 Mar 2014 at 9:28 am

  14. Great article, Karyn. Appreciate the tip on bundling to limit costs. Good to know. I’ve passed your article on to several social media platforms. So many entrepreneurs are creating content but not thinking about their need to protect it.

    11 Mar 2014 at 7:36 pm

  15. Karyn Greenstreet

    Thanks for passing it on, Terri! 🙂

    12 Mar 2014 at 11:07 am

  16. Charlene Holsendorff

    Great info and suggestions, Karyn, thank you!

    12 Mar 2014 at 11:40 am

Category: Business Strategy & Planning, Running a Strong & Efficient Business