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Understanding Intellectual Property Law as a Web Publisher and Freelance Writer

Learn about intellectual property law for web publishers and freelance writers. Then, get insight into the best practices for protecting your content.

It may not seem as important as keeping up-to-date with the latest search engine optimization (SEO) techniques and writing strategies, but understanding intellectual property (IP) law is a must for web publishers and freelance writers.

People publish a staggering 6+ million blog posts per day. With such a vast amount of content published daily, it’s important to stay current with intellectual property law to protect your work. Knowing your intellectual property rights prepares you to navigate or avoid intellectual property issues that may arise.

Learn about intellectual property (IP) law as it applies to web publishers and freelance writers. Discover the different types of IP law, your rights as a writer, and get insight into the best practices for protecting your content.

4 Types of Intellectual Property for Freelance Writers and Publishers

Let’s begin by clearing up a common misconception: IP and copyright are not the same thing. Intellectual property is a broad term for the kinds of intangible things that you can create using your mind or intellect. This makes copyright a type of intellectual property.

It’s not the only type, though — there are four types of intellectual property:

  1. Trademark
  2. Patent
  3. Trade secret
  4. Copyright

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Trademark

Do you use a certain word, logo, or symbol to distinguish your written content and services from others? Then, you may want to register it as your trademark.

It may not be as recognizable as, say, the apple in the Apple logo. Yet, registering it can still prevent others from using it and causing confusion among your audience.

2. Patent

If you’re creating new software or another invention to enhance your writing or publishing power, then you may want to apply for patent protection. A patent prevents others from taking credit for or profiting from your invention.

3. Trade Secret

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, there’s no formal government registration process for this one. However, trade secrets are still another form of intellectual property. A trade secret includes confidential information or processes that you use to gain an advantage over your competition. 

For writers and publishers, this may apply if you have a confidential writing style or process that makes you stand out from others in your industry. By protecting your trade secret, you can prevent others from using it to their advantage.

4. Copyright

Finally, we’re back to our old friend, copyright. This is perhaps the most important type of intellectual property for freelance writers and publishers, as it gives you the right to protect your original work.

Whether you’re creating short blog posts or in-depth articles, holding the copyright allows you and only you to reproduce, reprint, sell, distribute, perform, display, and publish your work. Unless, it falls under the category of fair use.

One of the best things about copyright law is that you don’t have to register for it. 

Note: If you’re under a freelance writing contract with a client, then you may not have copyright protection for any of the content produced for them. This depends on what is specified in the writing contract.

The Intellectual Property Rights of Freelancers and Web Publishers

As a freelance writer, there is only one type of intellectual property that you automatically own when it comes to your work — copyright. As soon as you create a piece of content, you own the copyright.

As long as it’s an original work by a human author (that’s right — you can’t copyright AI-generated content) and in a tangible form of expression (like a blog post), you are the copyright holder for your content, according to the US Copyright Office

Keep in mind that you can sign these rights away when signing a contract for a client. 

How a Freelance Writing Contract Can Affect Copyright

If you’re in a work-for-hire situation, the freelance writing contract you sign may include a section on copyright. Clients often want writers to sign over the copyright ownership rights to their content. 

When they own the copyright, the client retains the ability to choose what is done with the content without seeking your permission. In this case, even though you are the content creator, the copyright no longer belongs to you (if you have a written agreement or contract that specifies the client has copyright ownership). 

However, if you don’t sign your copyright ownership rights away, then you are still the default copyright owner. 

Best Practices for Protecting Intellectual Property as a Writer and Web Publisher

Understanding how to best protect intellectual property rights is important. It helps freelance writers and web publishers avoid infringement and run a successful business.

  • Read any freelance writing contracts thoroughly before signing. If you don’t want to sign away the copyright ownership rights to your content, try negotiating the contract with your client before signing it.
  • Edit AI-generated content. While you can’t protect the parts written exclusively by artificial intelligence, the United States Copyright Office notes that you may be able to claim copyright to the human elements of AI-assisted content. Rearrange, restructure, and reword your work to add that human touch. If you get to the point where you’re having trouble distinguishing the AI elements from your own, use an AI content detector to highlight the AI-generated parts and edit accordingly.
  • Use a plagiarism checker. Run your content through a plagiarism checker to see if it shows up on other websites. Using a plagiarism checker can also help you to catch and potentially avoid plagiarism issues.
  • Register copyrights, patents, and/or trademarks where applicable. You may receive automatic copyright protection when you create content, but you need to register it through the US Copyright Office to enforce your rights through litigation.

Final Thoughts

Understanding intellectual property law as a web publisher and freelance writer is essential for protecting online content. By knowing what you can and cannot legally do with your content and the content of others, you can make informed decisions and avoid intellectual property issues throughout your career.

Jess Sawyer

Jess Sawyer is a seasoned writer and content marketing expert with a passion for crafting engaging and SEO-optimized content. With several years of experience in the digital marketing, Jess has honed her skills in creating content that not only captivates audiences but also ranks high on search engine results.

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