A client recently asked me this question:
“Can you give any advice on any steps we should take to protect my intellectual property at this point. I’ve not really taken steps in this regard and don’t know if I need to in any way?”
First, to clarify: She was not asking about legal protection – copyright, trade marks, patents, etc. Rather, she wanted to know what she could do to prevent (or at least, discourage) clients from copying the material she was providing to them.
The trouble is that with digital (i.e. electronic) material, it can be extremely complicated to stop people copying it. For example, to watch a video, they do have to download it, even if they don’t click an actual Download button. There are some sophisticated copy-protection schemes, but they can be difficult to set up, and can cause problems for some legitimate uses (which means you end up with clients phoning you for tech support!).
So it’s probably not worth trying too hard to stop really determined people from copying your stuff.
Here are some options …
In general, there are a number of things you can do to protect your material:
- First, of course, make your contract clear about what they are getting. If you can provide valuable resources at a fair price, there’s less temptation for them to abuse it.
- Put clear ownership information on all your materials (including a copyright notice, even though this is not legally required).
- If it’s easy to protect something, do so. For example, if they don’t need to edit a document, give it to them as PDF rather than Word.
- If there are easy ways for you to monitor them, do so. For example, one of my clients licences his online courses to clients, and they send him the list of names to enrol in the course. This is a bit of extra work on his part, but enables him to easily keep track of the number of users – and bill the client accordingly.
- Don’t worry about the really determined IP thief. It creates too much of a burden for you and your legitimate clients. For example, in that previous example of the client with online courses, there’s nothing to stop a client from enrolling one person and then sharing the material with everybody else. But it’s too much effort to prevent that sort of abuse.
- That said, if you do find somebody using your materials illegally, raise the issue with them. Sometimes they are doing it unknowingly and would pay if they knew, others are doing it knowingly but would back down if detected, and others will simply ignore you and go on doing it. But you’re still no worse off by raising the issue.
- Corby Grammar School1961 - 1966
- Rowlett Primary School - Corby1954 - 1961
- Corby Technical CollegeElectrical & Electronic Engineering, 1966 - 1971
I also run business owner mentoring groups, workshops and seminars on how to prepare businesses ready for sale and what to look for when buying a business. I have one on one consulting clients present at seminars and conferences and facilitate workshops. I am also a registered business broker.
- Denton & AssociatesBusiness consultant / facilitator, 2007 - present
- Performance Business SalesBusiness Broker, 2008 - 2013
- Leadership Management AustraliaPartner / Owner, 1997 - 2006
- Datacraft AustraliaState Mamager ACT/WA, 1989 - 1997
- UnisysAccount Manager ACT, 1986 - 1989
- CTL / ITL Hemel HempsteadEngineer / Sales, 1973 - 1986
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