Entertainment Industry and Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is not only important for the entertainment industry, but for any person who creates content in any field. An intellectual property attorney works specifically in the area of protecting that content, whether copyrights, trademarks, patents or trade secrets.
In interviewing Russ Riddle, an Intellectual property attorney, we briefly discuss each of those content areas and I’ve provided links in this article for your further exploration and study. Russ describes himself as an Anomaly at Law with his varied background as a recording studio owner with a journalism college degree.
Just as important as preventative care for your car or your health, putting protections in place for your intellectual property will pay off. It costs much less to protect property at the outset than end up in a legal battle later trying to prove details of origin. In this article we’ll cover four principles that will help you safeguard your intellectual property, whether or not you are in the entertainment industry: agreements, registration, maximizing content and respect for others.
One: Get Agreements in Writing
There are many sources online that give you guides for contracts, whether work-for-hire or other. Depending on the situation, your contract can be a very simple agreement, but put it in writing. When producing both of the world premieres of my original musicals, (Tsarina and Stiltz) we had all actors sign an agreement before the start of any rehearsals. That agreement gave permission to use their performances for all electronic rights, promotional materials and even recording purposes.
The contractual agreements obtained at the outset of any project or performance brings a feeling of freedom for most any creator or producer. This applies for most any field, but especially the entertainment industry. Your intellectual property can still be stolen but realize there’s always a certain amount of risk whether or not you have a contract. However, a good legal contract gives you more peace of mind as well as protection.
Two: Register Your Work
It’s fairly easy to register copyrights. You can find plenty of information, forms and current fees on at Copyright.gov. I suggest you register your work through the copyright office. I’m not sure if the same message is floating around that I received years ago about mailing a registered copy to yourself, but I will tell you from experience, that is a waste of time. Yes, I did it and you have to have the envelope sealed up tight. You can’t open it until you get to court if there’s any dispute. It’s much easier to do this through the government office. You can even group works together on a single form for a single fee.
There is plenty of information about trademarks and patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office. The application for a trademark is more involved and a bit more difficult to obtain. Obtaining legal advice is helpful as there are different categories and language that creates additional challenges. But it is still possible to do yourself. Also, a government attorney is assigned to your case if there are issues and I’ve been able to speak directly with an attorney assigned to my case several times. But I urge you to do your homework before embarking on this yourself.
Patents are even more involved and Trade Secrets are just like they sound—they are secrets. Coca Cola’s “secret formula,” Colonel Sander’s “secret sauce,” etc… are all trade secrets. I highly recommend Corral Your Cash Cow Manual by Russ Riddle, a simple-to-understand manual with sample contracts, forms and links. It’s much easier to have as a guide than some of the thicker books full of legalese language.
Three: Maximize Your Content
There are so many ways you can maximize your original content. (See Developing Your Intellectual Property) If you are a keynote speaker, you can develop workshops, online training and even license your content to trainers. Russ highly suggests when selling or licensing your material that you make it available for streaming only. This especially applies to video for streaming, not downloading.
My sheet music is downloadable, and understandably so. But all of my videos in online courses are streamed online and protected. A music colleague of mine told me once, They’ll steal the soles off your shoes if you let them. He was referring to certain individuals in the entertainment industry. So take that as a wise word to safeguard your valuable content and also back it up.
Four: Respect Property of Others
My main word of advice here is to do your homework. Just because you see something online doesn’t mean you have permission to use it. This particularly relates to photos, videos and even music. Many have gotten away with using property that is not in the Public Domain. But once you start making money off that property, I guarantee, you will at the very least get a notice to “cease and desist.”
Public Domain is original material, including literature, art, photos or music that anyone can use as the copyright has expired. You want to do your homework, looking up copyrights on Harry Fox or Duke Law School. You can also license music through Harry Fox but be aware you may have to go directly to the publisher. I have had to do that with recording a selection not represented by Harry Fox and it was a fairly involved process, but legally I knew I had a right to record it with permission. (One of the writers didn’t want to give permission, but that’s another story for another time!)
Do Unto Others...
I’m assuming you don’t want anyone to steal your content and use it for their profit. In the same way, don’t steal from others, no matter how entitled you feel. It doesn’t cost that much to legally license material. Get help if you need it and I will repeat, do this before you embark on a project. This last statement comes from experience, but that story is also for another day!
Make sure you connect with me on Social Media, where I do tell some of these stories. As always, my wish is for your continued success.
Don't steal from others, no matter how entitled you feel.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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