Recently there was an incident in which a set of plans was purchased from a website for a one-off build of a particular tiny house. Before receiving the download a EULA had to be agreed to that specifically outlined the plans as being for a one-time build only. A few months later though it was discovered that this agreement had been negated and the purchaser had used the plans not just to build more than one house but to actually begin a business with the tiny house blueprinted in the plans. It was an inarguable case of copyright infringement. Or was it? Does copyright exist in the digital world? Is intellectual property a real thing? Can a person be sued for breaking a EULA? Just what does copyright mean in the tiny house world?
According to Plagiarism Today,
Copyright is a law that gives you ownership over the things you create. Be it a painting, a photograph, a poem, a novel, or a tiny house design, if you created it, you own it and it’s the copyright law itself that assures that ownership. The ownership that copyright law grants comes with several rights that you, as the owner, have exclusively. Those rights include:
- the right to reproduce the work
- to prepare derivative works
- to distribute copies
- to perform the work
- and to display the work publicly
These are your rights and your rights alone. Unless you willingly give them up (EX: A Creative Commons License), no one can violate them legally. This means that, unless you say otherwise, no one can build from your tiny house design, even with attribution, unless you give the OK. The key to this though is that one must first obtain a copyright in order to be protected under copyright law. Simply watermarking intellectual property does not give you any protection.
Quickly, intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce, and is subject to its own laws.
It is important to first note that your work is automatically protected by copyright when it is “fixed in a tangible form,” like a writing or drawing on a piece of paper. This means the U.S. copyright laws apply to your work as soon as you produce it, write it, record it, or draw it. Remember though, it isn’t enough just to be the first to think of your idea or invention. If you tell someone your idea, but that person fixes it in a tangible form (e.g., draws the blueprint) first, then that person owns the copyright, not you. Once copyrighted you can reap the benefits of such. You have the exclusive rights to reproduce, sell, distribute, etc. your work. Your copyright also allows you to create adaptations or derivative pieces from your work, and display your work in public.
HOW TO OBTAIN A COPYRIGHT
If you decide to you can register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright office. You may want to do so because:
- A registered copyright is a matter of public record.
- Registered copyright holders receive a certificate of registration from the U.S. Copyright Office.
- You must register your copyright before you bring a lawsuit related to infringement of your work.
The easiest way to obtain said copyright is to do so online. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office’s online registration site, the eCO system, and create an account. You’ll need to create a digital version of your work and upload it with the application. Pay the filing fee online and submit your application. Done. After you have filed your application, whether by mail or online, you will receive a certificate of registration from the U.S. Copyright Office. This certificate is proof that your work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Now you have the right to put a copyright notice on your work. Remember, a copyright notice should contain: the word “copyright” and a “c” in a circle (©) as well as the date of publication and the name of the author and/or owner of the copyright.
In light of the recent and aforementioned tiny house situation we must all come to terms with the fact that we live in a fast-paced, technologically driven society, where so much is available on the Internet and suing another has become commonplace. It is more important than ever to cover all aspects of your ideas and business including what is arguably the most overlooked, copyright.