Picture this–You’re scrolling on Twitter and happen to come across some familiar tweets. You realize these tweets are from your own personal account and have been taken without you being credited. You were having a personal conversation with a friend, but there it was, right on another account for millions to see. Someone else has taken your tweets further and is now profiting from it by selling it on merchandise. You feel violated, right? For viral retweets and t-shirts, your own thoughts have been used against you.
This important conversation was brought up on an episode of The Friend Zone podcast called Intellectual Property, where Franchesca (also known from HeyFranHey.com) talked about this situation happening to her multiple times. Unfortunately for creatives, these types of situations happen all the time. So, we’re here to help you understand what exactly Intellectual Property is and the routes you can take to start legally protecting your work.
Defining Intellectual Property
First, Intellectual Property is a work or an invention from a result of creativity, which one has rights to and can allow them to apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc. An example of this would be a manuscript or a design you’ve created. There are also four types of properties that you can use to protect your work the best.
According to uspto.gov, Trade secrets “consist of information and can include a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process.” It must be used in business, so if you have a business plan that hasn’t been used yet you can protect it under the Trade Secret protection. On the Intellectual Property episode, Fran gives an example of the Coca Cola recipe being a trade secret. It’s a secret formula only the company knows.
Secondly, trademark protection covers words, phrases, symbols, and designs that act as a source identifier for goods or services. It can also protect sounds, colors, and smells. Some examples would include the infamous blue color of Tiffany & Co., the Nike Swoosh, and the original curvy shape of the Coca Cola bottle. Fran gives another example in the episode of the most popular phrase of our generation, “Black Girl Magic.” Unless you receive permission, the phrase cannot be used for work because it was trademarked.
For the protection of original works of authorship, you need copyright. This includes literary and dramatic works, music, choreography, architecture, paintings, and computer software. In order for the work to qualify under the copyright laws, it must be fixed in a tangible medium. The owner has exclusive rights to modify, distribute, perform, and copy the work. So, if you have written a book or created a website, you need copyright.
Utility and Design are the subcategories under patent protection. The utility is for the function of the work, and design is for the aesthetic (protects the unique visual qualities). Patents protect inventions and allow the owner to exclude others from making, selling, or using the invention. Without this legal protection, anyone can use similar designs, products, and processes without risk. Fran also brought up a good point of how Snapchat didn’t have their invention of “stories” protected, and Mark Zuckerberg was able to bring it to Instagram and Facebook successfully.
In conclusion, legally saving your work from being used without permission will give you peace of mind as a creative. We all have different ideas, talents, and creations that we want to share with the world. Someone trying to take your work and claim it as theirs should not overshadow the purpose of your work. To listen to the episode, “Intellectual Property, visit The Friend Zone podcast here.