Everything a startup should know about copyrights


Copyright is an exclusive right provided to the creators of original works of authorship, such as literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works. It is essential to note that copyright protection begins the minute the work is created, but legally registering for copyright protection is not automatic. Filing for copyright protection is not a mandatory procedure, but it is important for certain industries which have commercial aspects that are short lived. Some examples of this would be the entertainment industry, any industry involving fast moving goods, any artistic products, literary publications, etc. Also, under the Copyright Act of India, computer software and software programs are considered as literary work and can be copyrighted under the act.

image credit: ShutterStock

All original, published or unpublished works can be registered under the copyright act. Depending on the type of work, there is a different period of protection. For literary, musical or artistic work (except photography), the protection is for the lifetime of the author plus 60 years from the year in which the author dies. In case of anonymous and pseudonymous publications, then the work will be protected for 60 years from the year in which the work is first published. For photography, cinematography, or sound recordings, the protection is for 60 years from the end of the year in which the work is first published.

The next obvious question would be about, what rights a copyright owner holds. A copyright owner can reproduce the work, may issue copies of the work to the public, may perform the work in public, may communicate the work to the public, the owner may also make any translation or adaptation of the work. It is also important to know that it is the right of the owner to decide whether to publish the work or not, and the right of the owner to prevent any deformation and other alterations which may distort the honour and reputation of the author.

Benefits of copyright registration

In few of the industries mentioned above it is advisable to register for a copyright certificate. With respect to copyright infringement cases or any disputes on ownership of copyright, the lawsuit will be stronger if the copyright is registered. The copyright registration certificate will serve as a prima facie evidence in these scenarios, and it helps in getting a quick preliminary injunction from the court. Having a certificate of registration also provides simplicity during licensing and/or assigning of the rights to others.

In industries where the commercial aspects of the work are short-lived, it is highly advisable to register for a copyright, as it is very important to get a preliminary injunction. The entertainment industry is the biggest example here; musical compositions, cinematography, photography, art, etc. are successful only due to the exclusivity in the work that is released to the public, therefore it is essential for such industries to preserve their rights through copyright protection.

Should Startups register for copyrights?

Now, we come to the question of startups and how relevant copyrights are to them. Firstly, it needs to be understood that a copyright is nothing but a protection towards the ‘expression of an idea’, so any form of expression may fall under the category of a copyright. This could include

  • a product snapshot,
  • website design,
  • promotional advertisements,
  • software programs,
  • jingles for merchandise,
  • graphics for an app,
  • interface for a game, etc.

Whether to register a copyright under such aspects can be assessed on a case to case basis and an expert opinion is always encouraged. Therefore, the product/industry that the startup is working on, will determine whether there is a need for copyright protection or not.

Let us assess copyright protection of a software program. Primarily, the startup needs to assess whether the program is susceptible to copyright infringement, or not. Can the copyright be rewritten to provide the same output? Is this software program short-lived, or does it have a long shelf life? As per the answers to these questions, one may decide whether it is worth getting a copyright or not. Even though obtaining a copyright registration certificate is not a costly affair, it is always better to go for registration only if there is a threat for commercial exploitation of the authored work.

In the present day scenario, the number of startup companies is on the rise. For some of these companies their websites are the face of their services/merchandise. Many startups put in abundance of creativity in developing the most attractive yet productive website, which surely has a cost involved. Why allow others to use your creative ideas? A good step would be to opt for copyright protection of your website design in order to protect your exclusivity. The same way, several companies come up with special promotional advertisements, brochures, visiting cards, etc. to represent their company. All of these may be protected under the copyright act for a meager investment.

Here is another interesting fact. It is also possible to copyright your logo, as it is considered as an expression of an idea and a form of artistic work. In some cases where a startup is not completely convinced on the product categories it aims to target, it is better to go for copyright registration of the logo. As and when the products/ services are determined, the logo can be trademarked under the specific classifications in which the particular products/ services belong to.

Therefore copyright protection can be sought out for several aspects of any business. There are no strict criteria’s that have to be satisfied is order for any work to be eligible for copyright protection, except that the expression of the idea should consist of a novel element. So all you startups out there, where all has your creativity been utilized? Get ready to hunt for ‘expressions’ that can be protected through copyrights.

About the author:

This post is co-authored by Gaurav Singhal and Ananya Dhuddu. Gaurav is the Director and Principal IP Attorney at Patracode Services Pvt Ltd. A B.Tech in Computer Science, LLB from IIT-Kharagpur and Masters in Business Laws from National Laws School of India University, Gaurav has been working in the IPR field since many years. Ananya Dhuddu is an IP Analyst at Patracode Services Pvt. Ltd. She is a Life Sciences graduate from Pennsylvania State University, USA. She holds a PG Diploma in Medical Law and Ethics from National Law School of India University, Bangalore and a PG Diploma in IPR and Patent Management from GIIP, Bangalore.